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February 24, 2024
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With the delivery of the final Airbus A380 to Emirates on December 16, the book on the production of the world’s biggest passenger aircraft can be closed. The aircraft registered as A6-EVS is the 251st A380 that has been delivered new to an airline, yet it has manufacturing number MSN272. Indeed, between the last one and MSN001 (main picture), there are some twenty A380s that never made it to final assembly or weren’t built. Let’s have a look at the Airbus A380s that never were.

Checking the production list on A380.Boards.net, a group that consists of a bunch of A380 addicts, you can easily see where the gaps in the manufacturing of the aircraft have been.
Malaysia Airlines shows three frames that were not assembled. Parts of MSN018 reportedly ended up being used in MSN034, which is Singapore Airlines 9V-SKI. The same happened to MSN024 with parts used in MSN045 or Singapore SKJ. MSN032 was also destined for MAS but has never been built.

MSN037 was supposed to have been the first full freighter A380F for FedEx as part of an order for ten plus ten options announced in January 2001 and confirmed in July 2002. But by November 2006, the express delivery company had rethought its fleet plans and canceled its order, leaving 037 as unfinished business and a gap in the production sequence. It’s the same for MSN053 for FedEx, which fitted in nicely between Air France HPJE and China Southern B-6138.

Emirates took delivery of its 123rd A380 on December 16 in Hamburg. (Airbus)

While Emirates is the biggest A380 customer, having ordered 123 since placing the launch order on April 30, 2000, for five passenger versions, two -800Fs, and five options, there was supposed to have been another A380 based in the United Arab Emirates: that of the UAE government. Whatever happened isn’t known, but MSN060 wasn’t built.

Qantas initially ordered twelve A380s in November 2000 and placed a follow-on order for eight in December 2006, but got second thoughts in 2014 and finally canceled the eight options in February 2019. This also left a gap in the production sequence, as MSN091 (supposed to be VH-OQM) and MSN102 (OQN) weren’t built.

MSN095 is listed as destined for Qatar-registered Viajes Marsans, but not built. MSN097 wasn’t built without further information available. MSN104 was supposed to become F-HPJI for Air France, but the production was postponed and the frame was not built. HPJI actually was built later as MSN115. An identical situation happened to MSN118, destined to be Lufthansa D-AIMK. That one eventually was MSN146. 

MSN129 was scheduled for Air Austral as the first of two A380s ordered in January 2009. They would have been the double-decker with the highest seat density of 840 seats. But Air Austral changed its mind too and finally confirmed the cancelation in early 2016.

Air Austral’s 840-seat A380 remained just a model aircraft as the airline canceled the two it had on order.

MSN162 was originally built for Japanese Sky Mark Airlines, as was MSN167. But this time, it was Airbus that canceled the order in 2014 as it questioned the financial solvability of the airline and the ability to take delivery of the four A380s it ordered in 2010. The two A380s have been in long storage until Emirates bought them and still flies them as EVB and EVA respectively. MSN185 was also destined for Sky Mark but never built.

The financial situation also determined the fate of the A380s for Russian airline Transaero, which initially ordered four A380s in 2011, then reduced it to three. When Transaero went bankrupt in 2015, the order remained in the book as Air Accord until it was finally canceled in February 2019. MSN196 and 212 were meant for Transaero but not built, although some parts might have ended up in another A380.

Two unbuilt frames, MSN245 and 246, were both originally destined for Emirates but postponed. There hasn’t been an MSN265 either, not built for no specific reason.

Two out of four Sky Mark A380s on order were already built when Airbus canceled the order with the Japanese airline. MSN162 now flies as Emirates A6-EVB. (Airbus)

This leaves nineteen unbuilt A380s. There were of course more canceled orders: Emirates canceled 39 firm orders plus sixteen options in February 2019, which meant the end of the production. Air France canceled two firm orders in 2017, lessor ILFC ten firm orders plus four options in 2011, Virgin Atlantic deleted its six A380s that were ordered in 2000 only in 2018, Lufthansa canceled three in 2013, UPS bought five A380Fs plus five options in 2005 but canceled in 2013. Kingfisher also ordered A380s in 2005 (five), but the airline was in deep trouble before production had started and canceled in 2013.

Vietnam Airlines ordered four in 2009 but deleted them four years later, Hong Kong Airlines wanted ten in 2011 but none in 2018. Lessor Amedeo was seen as a lifeline back in 2013 with an order for twenty, but was unable to place them and deleted the order in February 2019. And for some weeks in early 2016, Iran Air seemed to become a key customer with a potential order for twelve after the Obama Administration relaxed sanctions on the country. Reportedly, the airline and government weren’t on the same page as the fleet renewal was concerned and the deal never happened.

Virgin Atlantic’s A380 never made it on the production line but stayed in the order book for eighteen years. (Airbus)

The A380 book ends with 251 deliveries, of which 123 to Emirates, which already has parted out two with five more on the short-term list. Qantas got twelve and will keep only ten post-Covid, whenever that may be. Singapore took delivery of 24 A380s but phased out the five oldest when it got the five newest. Five SIA’s double-deckers have already been parted out, with to more awaiting the same faith, but has brought back five aircraft into service since November.

Air France has retired all ten A380s as the first airline to do so in 2020. Lufthansa has followed suit this year, with fourteen aircraft in deep storage that are unlikely ever to return with the German flag carrier. Korean Air took delivery of ten A380s in the past decade and today only operates one on just a weekly basis. China Southern has five of them, with two currently in maintenance. Malaysia Airlines’ six A380s, including the 100th to be delivered (9M-MNF) haven’t been in active service for a long time but four of them did very short flights since October. Thai’s fleet of six has been grounded since the start of the pandemic, while Hi Fly ended operations with its ex-Singapore A380 about a year ago.

British Airways has five out of twelve A380s back in service since November and plans to increase the number in the coming summer season. Qatar resumed A380s in December with four of its ten aircraft, but only because it had parked twenty A350s because of the paint quality issue. Etihad’s ten doubledeckers are all in storage, with the airline undecided if it wants to bring them back into service, saying it won’t one time and not ruling thing out the next.

The last new A380 customer became All Nippon Airways, but it has only had a short spell to enjoy the type on the dedicated route to Hawaii until the pandemic started to play havoc. It took delivery of its third aircraft on October 15 but since arriving in Tokyo the next day, the orange sea turtles have been sitting idle on the ground.

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

1 thought on “The Airbus A380s that never were

  1. Our first flight with Qatar Airways’ was on their fantastic A380, in business class, from Paris to Doha and onward to Bali. From start to finish it was a truly amazing & unforgettable experience! The bar on their A380 is stunning – probably the best bar on an A380, a great place to chill out at 35,000ft. ?? ?

    The A380 gave airlines the chance to do something special…only a few did and they’ve each gained a good reputation when it comes to their product and service. Ever since that first flight, Qatar Airways has been a firm favourite!

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