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A380 cancellations by Qantas raise new questions about the superjumbo's future (cnn.com)
109 points by holografix 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 245 comments

I totally understand why big aircraft (A380, 747, etc) are disappearing commercially but I will miss them. Flying in a larger aircraft makes one feel less like cargo, in particularly for airlines that offer places to stretch your legs (e.g. "bar" seating, showers, staircases, etc).

I was always kind of secretly hoping large blimps would return. And we'd get to choose between 7 hours in a tiny metal tube with the seat-back of the person in front resting on your knees, or 24 hours on a slow blimp with a bed, the ability to walk around, and social areas. Kind of like a cruise ship in the sky.

An A380 feels kind of like Concord in that it really touched the imagination. I still hope to have a shower at 40,000 feet before they're retired completely.

I love the A380 as an aerospace enthusiast, but absolutely despise it as a passenger. In my experience (with Lufthansa), the boarding process is chaotic and takes forever, the seat pitch is minimal in economy, and never have I felt more like cattle than when sharing the situation with 700 other passengers.

I'm curious how your experience as a passenger sounds so different from mine.

To be fair though, according to Seatguru.com, Lufthansa are the most 'efficient' in terms of seating - that is, you will have the least leg-room etc. on a Lufthansa flight. The precise airplane model doesn't matter, they always have the least space for a passenger.

Bonus for when you press the steward summons button and an angry balding German steward (who nonetheless has a ponytail) turns up half an hour later and demands to know what you want, and when you say "water, please", asks angrily "You vant vasser?!" like you just asked to bone his Mum.

> To be fair though, according to Seatguru.com, Lufthansa are the most 'efficient' in terms of seating - that is, you will have the least leg-room etc. on a Lufthansa flight. The precise airplane model doesn't matter, they always have the least space for a passenger.

Honestly I thought cattle class on the Lufthansa A380 was quite a step up from the domestic long haul offerings. The A380 runs higher humidity and is significantly quieter (inside and out) than many of its contemporaries. The leg room wasn't spectacular, but that's true of most carriers.

The food on Lufthansa, even on the short segments like FRA-CDG, puts anything you'd find on a domestic carrier to shame. United in particular has utterly revolting food.

I know this is anecdotal but it made me chuckle because this was exactly my experience as well. There is barely enough legroom for me (and I'm not all that tall, 185 cm or 6'1" in freedom units), and I managed to spill a bit of coffee by accident since I basically have to play tetris with my limbs. Up comes a strict German stewardess and proceeds to berate me saying that "it's a brand new carpet, just installed last week!". I was so stunned by this that all I could blurt out was "You think I did this on purpose?".

I remember being parked at the gate on a Lufthansa flight. The passenger next to me was on her cell phone finishing up a call. An angry stewardess marched over to yell at her for being on the phone and said "It is against German law!". The passenger, being a New Yorker, she just said "We're not in Germany honey". I thought they were going to drag her off the plane, but the stewardess marched off in a huff. I avoid Lufthansa whenever I can. They are usually overpriced, and they confuse Teutonic efficiency with customer service.

> The passenger, being a New Yorker, she just said "We're not in Germany honey". I thought they were going to drag her off the plane, but the stewardess marched off in a huff.

Lucky passenger, disobeying a crew member is illegal in the United States. United would've just pulled another Dr. Dao.

While terrible customer service, I can appreciate the steward’s care for the equipment.

Considering the parent mentioned showers and bars, he/she probably flies first class from time to time.

Some carriers (Etihad, Emirates, Singapore Airlines) have very impressive FC setups on the A380, with other aircraft having a stripped down/smaller version.

I have a similar view on the A380, but I love being a passenger on them more than any other plane. The extra leg room is what wins over for me and as I fly Emirates the in flight entertainment is brilliant.

For me it’s a shame we are seeing a decline of these planes. I loathe to think the industry is going to go back to less leg room, more seats and feeling like cattle.

When I'm flying Emirates, the censorship on the IFE is hilarious. Watching the Gotham TV series, and they kept censoring the word "lesbian".

Also, the Wolf of Wall Street Emirates style is significantly shorter (they cut all the scenes with extensive hookers and cocaine) and when Margot Robbie walks out nude they cropped the image and zoomed in on her face only, albeit with extensive pixellation.

But hey, at least Emirates will never tell you that you've had too much to drink, unlike Singapore Airlines.

Perhaps the extensive pixelation and cropping might have been due to having too much to drink ;)

Seats are arranged by the carrier, not the AirBus itself. Seat pitch in Singapore Airlines and Emirates is quite comfy

I've flown the A380 with Emirates a bunch of times in economy and it was quite nice. Much more quieter and a lot more space. They also gave bassinet seats for my infant which made a huge difference on a 10 hour flight.

That is my experience too. With emirates I can actually sit in an economy seat in a 380 without destroying my knees (looking at you Lufthansa, you can do it too in you 380s). A trip to Tokyo recently I did the first stretch in a 380 and the second in a 777 and the 777 was horrible compared to the 380: less seat space (I think about 1 to a bit less than 2 inches), less overall room. Though still more room than most airlines offer.

Indeed, my only A380 experience was with Emirates and I assumed that they were all set up in the same way. I tend to fly Virgin Atlantic long haul and will at least upgrade to their premium (business) class, but economy on an Emirates A380 is comparable IME and to be honest I doubt I'd waste money paying to upgrade if I flew with them again.

VS’s Premium is a Premium Economy product, not a Business class product — that’s their Upper Class. Not looking to be pedantic, but it’s priced as Premium Economy, shows up on OTAs as PE, and is virtually identical to any other PE.

I'm doing London -> New Zealand on an A380 with Emirates next month, with a bassinet for a 14 month old infant.

We're a bit worried that he may end up being too big for it. That, and keeping them entertained for two long flights.

14-months may be pushing it -- they have a stated weight and height limit but in practice it depends if your steward cares or not. Over weight/height isn't going to break the bassinet, we had ours with the legs hanging over the edge. Some stewards though whenever there is turbulence will ask you to take your baby out so you can cover them with a seat-belt. When they are sleeping this is not ideal. On a long flight, this can happen a lot (the seat-belt light turns on, even if you barely feel a bump from turbulence afterwards). We ended up saying "ok, sure" when they come and ask, and then when they walk off we just wouldn't do anything. All in all, I found travelling with an infant pretty OK. Depending on what time your flights are, they might sleep a good 8 hours in the bassinet!

I've only flown the A380 twice, once in business and once in Lufthansa's economy. Had the same experience as you in economy, never felt more like cattle. I'll take the 787 any day.

> the boarding process is chaotic and takes forever,

Yeah, LH is awful at boarding, especially in airports without the automated gates like TXL (the airport being a gigantic bag of hurt nonetheless)

For long hauls I'd always recommend to upgrade to Premium Economy. It's not quite first class, but it's much better than regular economy imho.

Really? I've flown both Premium Economy and Economy (>10 flights each I believe) for Delta, as well as both on a few other carriers, and I've never noticed a difference that was worth more than $20 in my mind. (Most of these were long-haul.) If it's free or very cheap, then sure, but it's such a small benefit that I've been on flights where I didn't even notice I was in Premium Economy until I stood up at the end of the flight.

In American carriers, "Economy Plus" or similar is just a little bit of more leg room, in the standard 3-4-3 or 3-3-3 configuration.

For companies like Lufthansa, SAS and others - premium economy is closer to what Business Class used to be 20 years ago. You get an amenity kit, better food selection with real cutlery, nicer pillow and duvet, and a much nicer seat - usually in a 2-2-2 configuration.

Huh! I've flown Premium Economy with a few European carriers (Air France, KLM and two others I believe?) and didn't notice anything different. Food on KLM/AF is always good though. I've never flown Premium Economy in Lufthansa or SAS (as far as I can remember.) And I've never seen a duvet on a plane even in first class! Are there actually airlines with duvets or just nicer quality blankets?

The differences I've mainly noticed in premium economy are: electrical outlets, nicer in-flight entertainment, more legroom/better reclining, nicer head cushion, closer to the front (if that's a benefit) and that's about it. Amusingly, I've found on Delta the "premium economy" section occasionally extends slightly outside, e.x. the electrical outlets and better in-flight entertainment (but not the legroom) aren't only for premium economy but also 2 or 3 rows of normal seats beyond. Which is a little strange, since I would think Delta would use the opportunity to present that as an upgrade (paid, or free as a goodwill gesture) but I've only ever seen them labeled and sold as normal seats.

There are indeed carriers that now provide much nicer bedding. I fly mostly Delta and United, and United has definetively the best bedding not the routes I fly (mostly to South America and occasionally Europe). In business class you get a blanket, a duvet, two pillows and you can request a mattress pad. Delta has a nice heavy blanket that I usually sleep on top of and a pillow.

Both carriers in the process of upgrading their seats in business class and adding a true premium economy product, not what delta calls comfort plus, which is really just more leg room at the front of the economy cabin. The true premium economy product is much closer to the premium economy that has been available on other carriers (emirates, cathay pacific, etc...) for a while and has better seats, food is served on plates, etc... It's not to far off from what one might get in a domestic first class.

"Premium Economy" seems to be a Virgin Atlantic thing and is basically their business class. It includes much larger seats, premium in-flight entertainment, nicer toilets, and a much better food and drink selection. The section on the aircraft I've flown on is also much smaller (50 seats?) and curtained off from the unwashed masses.

Agreed that a lot of airlines off an "economy plus" which is basically slightly faster boarding and slightly more legroom and that this isn't worth paying the extra for.

> "Premium Economy" seems to be a Virgin Atlantic thing and is basically their business class.

Neither of these statements is true.

Well, I bought Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic and what I got was an exit door seat - that was ok, but it was all it was. No better food or anything else.

Are you by any chance confusing premium economy and VA's Upper Class? (Which is basically business class on other airlines, if not first.)

Also, since upgrades are to the next higher seat class only, with PE you stand the chance of getting moved to J, on the rare occasions the stars line up correctly and you get it for free, or of course if you pay for it at check-in, or if you have status, etc.

Cathay Pacific has terrific Premium Economy seats on their 777s.

did you fly first class in an A380? it's amazing

It probably depends on the airline.

My Emirates experience of the A380 was incredible vs a decidedly crappy experience in a Qantas A380.

The former made me love the A380, top of the list. The latter made me hate it.

Love that plane technically though. Smooth. Relaxed. Quiet. Relatively spacious.

Blimps were never like that. The modern understanding of blimp travel is based on a handful of hollywood movies, the filming of which came nowhere near any real blimp.

The amount of helium/hydrogen necessary to lift a small apartment is immense. Then, if you are going to spend day in the air, all the water. It would almost certainly easier/cheaper/cleaner to provide a similar service inside a jet for a few hours than inside a blimp for a few days. So if you cannot afford the jet today, you wouldn't afford the blimp either.

I would suggest that trains would probably be the better alternative, with similar features.

Same problem - because of the time spent on the train the airplane is still cheaper, even before you account for people willing to spend extra for the faster flight.

Well, if you take countries like Japan or China with their high speed railways, it takes also less time to check-in, board, the most basic security checks; moreover, often train stations are located in the city, as opposed to airports outside. So it is not a clear cut.

Even for fairly long distances, the train can be time competitive.

A couple months ago I took a train from Tokyo to Fukuoka (around 600 miles driving distance). The train took 5 hours station to station -- I was staying near Shinagawa station so walked into the station 15 minutes before departure, and walked out of Hakata station in downtown Fukuoka 5 hours after departure.

If I flew from Haneda, it would have been a 2 hour flight, plus 45 minutes to get to the airport 45 minutes before the flight and 30 minutes from Fukuoka airport to Hakata, or about 4 hours total. Add about 45 minutes if flying out of Narita since it's farther from downtown.

But the train is around twice as expensive.

600 miles is not long distance. Trains still work well at that distance. New York to LA is 2400 miles. New York to London is 3400 miles. New York City to India is 7000 miles.

That's what I meant by "fairly long haul" (I thought the distance I was talking about was clear from the context).. It'd be hard for a 200 or even 300mph train to compete with a 550mph plane on a 2400 mile journey.

NYC to India makes no sense in this context since a train is never going to feasible for trans ocean transport. You may as well mention the 250,000 mile route to the moon.

If I were able to go overnight, I wouldn't care... show up in Phoenix at 9-10pm, wake up wherever the next morning. There are advantages to train. I hate the cramped space on airplanes... I'm fat and tall, it's uncomfortable to say the least, irrespective of how you may feel in terms of discriminating against fat people. I've often chose to spend adjacent days driving half way across country instead of flying a few times.

Airships are also less energy efficient, as was pointed out by von Karmen and Gabrielli in 1950.


To be fair, the time difference between a jet airline and blimp would be a lot bigger than 3 times or so. 7 hour in a metal tube vs 5 days in a blimp sounds more realistic.

Cruising speed in an A380: 560 mph (900 km/h) [1] Cruising speed of the Hindenburg: 76 mph (125 km/h) [2]

That's a multiplier of 7.2, though the shorter the flight the more pronounced an airship's time to reach cruising speed and come back down from cruising speed will factor into the overall ratio. And this assumes we can't make airships go faster than the Hindenburg (is 155mph/300km/h unreasonable?).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380#Specifications [2] https://www.airships.net/hindenburg/size-speed/

Airships couldn't fly great-circle routes of shortest distance, so the actual distance would be much longer. They did pressure-flying, skirting around weather formations like a helicopter flying through mountains. Sometimes they could get a slingshot by riding a wind as it flowed from a high.

Maybe for airships/blimps the approach would have to be different than for airplanes, meaning more intermediate stops? (maybe their "landing/takeoff"-cycle is more efficient than the ones of airplanes?) Kind of bus/tram vs. trains?

Or maybe just complementary? E.g. long routes handled by airplanes, "medium" routes handled by airships/blimps, and the rest handled by trains/bus/whatever?

I suspect we could do much faster landing/takeoff in airships nowadays than before, with dynamic positioning and azimuth thrusters or similar (rather than relying entirely on tether lines and/or mooring towers). It might be possible to have a faster cycle than airplanes due to VTOL abilities and more on-board infrastructure allowing for landings at smaller airfields than most commercial flights are able to use - though I imagine most local airfields would require some degree of retrofitting before they could support airship landings.

While I doubt they will ever be a primary transportation medium, I wonder if there would be enough demand for a cruise-ship-style airship to be commercially viable; I for one would absolutely love to spend a month on a luxury cruise around the world, landing every other day without the limitations of only seaside locations.

there is well forgotten middle ground - large and relatively slow (say 200-300mph using today's tech) plane, something like this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dornier_Do_X

"As a result of its size, passengers were asked to crowd together on one side or the other to help make turns."

That's amazing

Somewhat unrelated, I’ve been wondering for a while whether all pax in concert moving to the front/back of the cabin could bring a jet out of its flight envelope. There’s one or two related aviation stack exchange questions (that I’ve contributed to, IIRC), but I’ve never seen an informative authoritative account.

Abso-freaking-lutly. The permitted range for the CG (longitudinally) — denoted as "% of MAC", for Mean Aerodynamic Chord — is quite narrow, and you prefer to stay away from the "edges" of that range whenever possible.

The distribution of pax and baggage are chosen so as ensure its within the range. IOW, they don't book Row 1 then 2 then 3, etc, — sold seats are sprinkled across the aircraft as it's filled.

I've been told when the flight attendants are moving forward and back with the beverage service you can watch the trim wheel turn as the autopilot maintains correct AOA.

I did recall one incident where the plane got out of balance because of passengers moving in concert.


On the ATR-72 [0] there is an extra leg that folds down at the back of the plane to stop it tipping over, and passengers at the front half must remain seated until the rear pax have left, so there must be some danger of unbalancing. These are weird planes in that the cargo is stored at the front, behind the pilots, and the only door is at the rear. They are prop planes, the 72 being a stretched 42, I believe.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATR_72

There was a plane crash in the Congo that was reportedly due to everyone running away from a crocodile. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Bandundu_Filair_Let_L-410...

When flying a small airplane in Asia we were all weighted individually, and distributed around the plane accordingly.

I read about other flying boat - Boeing-314. It seems that it was basically 74 first class equivalent passengers and it was very expensive in its time. Converting it to cattle-class economy maybe could push it to 100-120 or so passengers. It would still be very expensive due to inefficient flight profile and high fuel consumption. Limited routes too. They are very pretty though, I'm not denying that.

Pan Am's Clippers were basically modeled after the luxury trains of the era, divided in compartments with seats that could be converted into bunks, and a common dining lounge: https://airandspace.si.edu/sites/default/files/images/7146h....

I think the problem with these is that they're terribly inefficient. Large plus slow equals low altitude, which means thick air.

Maybe it'd be possible to revisit nuclear powered aircraft? Modern, intrinsically safe reactors powering turboshaft engines could keep a ponderous flying platform aloft for months at a time.

I don't know much about modern reactors but I suspect even 3rd gen ones will still require immense shielding of a cabin and will be single contour design, meaning that exhaust will be irradiated, maybe less so than on prototypes from cold war. And as I remember soviet Tu-95LAL that did flew with a reactor did so WITHOUT any significant shielding for the crew.

I'm not sure there's value in debating that. It is a hypothetical blimp that doesn't exist.

Blimps can't go all that fast.

I was always kind of secretly hoping large blimps would return. And we'd get to choose between 7 hours in a tiny metal tube with the seat-back of the person in front resting on your knees, or 24 hours on a slow blimp with a bed, the ability to walk around, and social areas.

At the price you'd have to pay for day or two blimp ride, you'd probably be able to fly first or business class. Would you rather sit in a 500mph plane for 7 hours in a business class seat (which folds out into a bed), or ride in a 100mph blimp for 35 hours, even if you can walk around?

The Hindenburg carried 50 - 70 passengers with a crew of 40 - 60. Even if it's cut in half, that's an awfully high passenger to crew ratio (an airliner has a ratio of around 20 - 30 passengers per crew member). Even if fuel costs are minimal, you're sitting in an expensive aircraft for a day or so -- the airship may cost a fraction of the price of an airplane, but it travels at a fraction of the speed.

The planes of the day were not capable enough for the trips and the planes which could in the years after had beds and many staff as well and were not cheaper by any means. You are comparing apples and oranges by comparing a modern blimp to an old one. I do not say it will be cheap (probably not) but the comparison is wrong.

The OP was describing Hindenburg-era travel:

...or 24 hours on a slow blimp with a bed, the ability to walk around, and social areas. Kind of like a cruise ship in the sky.

So I compared to the Hindenburg. He can already get the "cruise ship in the sky" experience in an A380 in business class where he can find spacious seats that lay into a bed, private suites, a bar, showers, etc. But it's not cheap in an airplane, and won't be cheap in an airship.

I won't miss the A380. I will miss the 747 because of how uniquely majestic it looks. https://www.airliners.net/photo/China-Airlines/Boeing-747-40...

The A380 is not quite the beauty from the outside, but I found the pax comfort unparalleled, and that matters more to me than how it looks, frankly.

This. I, and almost every regular longhaul international flyer I see on comments/forums online say its the favourite experience inside the shell.

The 350 and the 777x may rank alongside. The 787 is only good in superior classes.

The 380 is by far the smoothest, quietest experience in the air for >10h flights.

I’ve loved the ride in the 380 since it first took to the skies, but the A350-900 more recently took my #1 spot for overall passenger comfort, particularly atmospheric (and therefore sleep) quality. 350 > 380 > 787 > 747 imo

I don't like the PaxEx in the 787. It feels narrower and more cramped.

A380 -> A330/A340 (on account of the 2-4-2 arrangement) -> 767 -> 777 for me.

I used to think the A380 was quiet... until I flew on an A350.

I've been on both the -900 and -1000 variants, and they are just amazingly quiet.

You need to visit the Lufthansa 747-200 that's on display at the Technik Museum in Speyer, Germany:


It appears to have a slide....

It does! You hike up to visit the inside of the plane and go out on the wing, then ride a burlap sack back down. It’s a super fun museum, the only counterpart I’ve seen here in the states is the Henry Ford Museum outside Detroit.

Oh that sounds great. Apparently they also have a real Buran prototype, for anyone that's still not convinced.

I'm surprised that Lufthansa would just donate them such a complete looking aircraft though. Apparently the 747-200 was still in production until 1991, and Lufthansa donated it in early 2002. They were in regular passenger use until 2016 and there are still a handful being used as cargo jets - and Lufthansa had an air cargo subsidiary that used 747-200s at the time.

> Henry Ford Museum outside Detroit

Well, now you've convinced me to go to the Technik Museum. The Henry Ford Museum was an institution of my childhood and one of the things everyone we knew enjoyed when they visited the area.

Close to Speyer is the Sinnsheim museum: https://sinsheim.technik-museum.de/en/

They have both the Concorde and the Concordski -- the Russian Tupolev 144.

In between those two is the Hockenheimring, with F1 will be in July this year, and the very pretty university town of Heidelberg.

Yeah, I forgot to mention the Concorde across the street. (Sinsheim is literally on the other side of the autobahn from Speyer) They really have a unique collection of amazing stuff, each museum can take you 2-3 days to fully explore.

The 777 is still doing pretty well, isn’t it? I’ve never been in an A380, but I’ve flown the 747 and 787 and there was no real difference in the experience.

I'm surprised to hear you say that, since I find the two very different. 747s are much noisier (unless you're up top) and have less humidity & cabin pressure, making them materially less comfortable on long flights.

Also, most airlines are now buying 787s and A350s instead of 777s.

> I'm surprised to hear you say that, since I find the two very different. 747s are much noisier (unless you're up top) and have less humidity & cabin pressure, making them materially less comfortable on long flights.

IMO even on the lower deck the A380 is the quietest jetliner I've been on. The last 747 I was on (United) still had the old, comfy, interior. The 787 may have the benefits of a quieter, more humid cabin but the slimline seats and tighter seat pitch made it a much less pleasant experience for me (United was among the worst of the bunch).

I have stopped flying United for this reason.

~14 long haul flights (13+ hours) per year I used to buy from them, gone - because they screwed up the seats.


Seat pitch and width is largely up to the airlines. Korean Air 787s aren't bad at all in economy.

United is always amongst the worst of the bunch.

I guess I’m too busy trying to cope with squeezing into the seats and finding something to stave off boredom to notice humidity.

How does increased cabin pressure make for increased comfort? Once your ears equalize, the only difference should be less oxygen available, which I’d think would make you feel better (albeit stupider).

Not really your main point, but I find it interesting that you mention staving of boredom, while for me it's hard to imagine getting bored on a plane. For me, being on a plane is one of the few moments where I essentially have unconditional free time. I use it to listen to music, read, watch videos, even play videogames, or do any of various other things on my laptop. (And that's not counting the moments where I'm interested about the plane and flying in general, but I put that in parenthesis, as there would still be plenty to do without that, and there have been flights where the airplane was uninteresting to me.)

I cherish those hours very much, and often look forward to them.

What about air travel prevents you from entertaining yourself?

> What about air travel prevents you from entertaining yourself?

Discomfort and being surrounded by total strangers.

Okay, I can see that. Being on the shorter side, I rarely feel discomfort in airplanes. And total strangers are only a problem if we're not completely ignoring each other, which thankfully was the case most times I flew.

Well, not everybody travels business. Me its for adventures, backpacking etc. No way I am carrying a laptop with me, even tablet is an overkill (rather I'll take heavier full frame camera for pics you simply can't take with phones).

So that leaves me with phone on which I want to preserve battery because adventures don't usually happen in concrete jungles of the cities, quite in contrary in fact. And usually crappy entertainment system, with really bad provided headphones (they don't block the engine noise very well so movies are sometimes hard to follow... I wish optional EN subtitles would be standard everywhere). I can handle it, I don't get bored with myself easily and usually carry a book on travels (migrating to kindle soon). But fun? Nah, that really ain't the word I would use.

It seems there are quite a few uber-rich people here that don't mind shelling out 500-2000$ on top of basic ticket for some additional comfort for 10-15 hours. I am not one of those, and neither is most of the population. I mean, I traveled in India for months, in buses where seat spacing caused me to be in embryonal position for 12+ hours, without possibility to stand up or stretch. So I can very easily handle one trip in plane. Unless it would be my minute income or less, I would rather put those money into improving the life of somebody poor but smart & hard working (plenty of those folks out there). You just need to find them and give it to them directly, no greedy middle-men.

Agreed, and even on 12+ hour flights I never manage to even begin all the books, magazines, movies, newspapers I’ve brought (let alone finish them).

Wild guess here, are you under six feet tall?

I totally get what you’re saying, but unfortunately it just doesn’t work so well for me. I don’t have enough room to comfortably use a laptop. I have to play T-Rex to use the keyboard.

Movies and TV shows can be good for a while. I usually watch a few hours on a flight, but that only works for so long. Imagine spending an entire day in a movie theater, except the chair is sized for kids and the screen is tiny and you have to hold it up.

Reading is similar. It would be great, but the general discomfort makes it hard to focus long enough.

Were I flying in business or first class, I imagine it would be totally different.

This is the cause of my fear of wifi becoming standard on flights.

Increased cabin pressure increases humidity, which in turn results in (for me at least) a reduction in issues like dry eyes, dry skin, and sinus problems. In addition, the increased oxygen is extremely noticeable - when you get off the plane you feel more like a human being, even if you've only got 4 hours sleep.

Note that my experience in comparing the A380 to the 787 is on USA - AUS flights, so your mileage may vary on shorter flights, but on longer flights it's a godsend.

E: I also have way fewer issues with my stomach/gut on the 787.

/second all of that the 787. It's the least jetlag-inducing plane for long flights.

You don’t experience hypoxic euphoria until you’re really struggling. Before that you feel sluggish, some people will experience headaches, and most people will feel a general sort of low-grade malaise. All told, not fun. More critically it also increases the risk of stroke.

Thanks for explaining. I guess my struggles with space and entertainment overshadow these things as well, and thankfully I haven’t had a stroke yet.

Personally I feel the same way as you. I’d rather be a bit low on O2 and not have to chew on my own knees for 8 hours, than enjoy deep breaths in a tiny tin can.

I guess it’s a lot cheaper to increase pressurization than to give every passenger a reasonably sized chair.

787 can have a higher pressure because of what it is made of. Air frame life is directly effected by the pressure in the cabin.

787 is still to small for some routes. The flights to APAC from the west cost moved to 787 and with in a year where back to 777 because of number of seats. I like the 787 better, windows, cabin pressure and humility all make for a more plesent flight. That being said, I have a much better chance of getting an upgrade on the 777.

This is heavily dependent on fuel prices. At lower fuel prices, the decreased overheads of the larger planes (landing fees, staffing, etc) make them worth it. The CEO of Qantas is on record that it doesn't take much of an increase in fuel price for it to be better for them to run two of the (much more efficient) 787s than 1 A380. I assume the 777s are similar.

Those were likely just improper uses of the 787, because it naturally makes new routes viable by fitting into a different size class which is great for making air travel more convenient. More non-tops seem to pop up every week on a 787 or A350.

The flights aren't so long in the 747 though, because it is faster.

Not so: while the 747 is notionally faster in terms of maximum speed, most modern large jets all cruise at March 0.85.


Of course one can fly slower. The 747 is still capable of 0.92 for most variants and 0.9 for the 747-8. Other passenger jets can't do that.

The 777 is a great and safe machine, but more cramped than the A380. The A380 is much more comfortable for pax, in my view: more spacious, quieter.

Blimps were large overall, but pretty sure the actual passenger area was still tiny.

They were much bigger than it seems, with cabins inside the main structure of the airship itself:


They were very mass limited, you only get 1kg of lifting ability per cube of gas.

> And we'd get to choose between 7 hours in a tiny metal tube with the seat-back of the person in front resting on your knees, or 24 hours on a slow blimp with a bed, the ability to walk around, and social areas. Kind of like a cruise ship in the sky.

The big differentiator is what you want to pay for. Even on a 787, 777, A350 if you choose first or business class, you can really be comfortable. On the other hand, I would bet that even with large blimps, the blimp companies would try to cram as many people as possible into it and would quickly approach the cramped experience you currently have in airplanes.

747s used to have a First Class Loungue in the upper deck before that got almost universally converted to more business class searing. As you say, comfort is pretty much just a function of you and a critical mass of others willing to pay a sufficient premium.

Obviously you’re still in a somewhat space constrained metal tube up in the air but air travel can be made pretty comfortable if money isn’t a big deal.

> I totally understand why big aircraft (A380, 747, etc) are disappearing commercially but I will miss them.

Just curious, why do you think they are disappearing? I thought they still have lower cost/passenger, especially for long haul?

It's kind of cool reason: there are now planes with smaller capacities (think around 100 passengers) and are efficient to operate over long hauls.

Up to very recently the economics of air-travel dictated that long flights (e.g. USA to Europe)be on planes as big as possible and this plus other reasons meant flights to Paris are available from big cities like New York but not small to moderate metro areas like Raleigh, NC.

With new high efficiency jets, you can have 100ish person long flight service to a large city from a region like Raleigh that could never support the economics of a massive 300-400 person A380.

A 300-400 person A380 is a very light A380: Emirates go from 489 passengers (ultra long-range version) up to 615 passengers (2 class long-range). The A380 is that huge. Also I don't think there are many 100 passengers airliners capable of crossing the Atlantic: long range single aisle (A321NEO-LR) seats around 180.

Look at BA flight 001, which is a transatlantic flight from LCY/SNN to JFK in an Airbus A318-100 [0] with only 32 (business class) seats. According to BA, a standard two class configuration would seat 107. Admittedly, it has to refuel in Shannon to allow it to make the Westbound leg, but the Eastbound trip goes non-stop from New York to London.

0. https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/about-ba/fl...

On the other hand the A318 is not in production anymore, and I doubt it would cross the pond with 107 seats. There's two tendencies in the market of airliners at the moment: single aisles are getting bigger, and twin aisles are getting smaller.

This is pretty noticeable on Airbus side for single aisles: the A321 used to be little more than an anecdote, now Airbus is ramping up the A321NEO to be about a third of its entire A320NEO family production (anticipating upsizing in the order book).

On the wide-body side many 747 have been replaced by 777-300ER, A350-900 and 787-9. Quite the downsizing. 787-9, A350-900 and 787-10 are raking in orders. Meanwhile the A380 is dying, the 747-8 is all but dead (though the 747-8F is still there). The 777-9 order book is a caricature of that of the A380 (Emirates + some anecdotes, even more so with Etihad likely to cancel). A350-1000 and 777-8 sales are underwhelming to say the least (although the latter will become a tremendous freighter).

Is there an issue with congestion into major airports like New York and London with more smaller planes instead of fewer larger planes? An A380 type plane holds about 3x the number of people as the mid-sized ones right? Fewer takeoffs and landings would be another benefit.

I would guess that the congestion advantage goes to more smaller planes. Those from NC no longer go to NYC as a stop over when they can take a direct flight, that means the plane from NC to NYC doesn't need to be scheduled to arrive and unload in time for everyone to get the the large plane, and reload as soon as everyone from the large plane gets to the small one. Instead the only people on that plane from NC want to be in NYC and so the plane can arrive anytime so you can schedule them to arrive at different times.

That is the hub and spoke model requires the airport to have bursts of busy times as everyone tries to reach their plane at once. With smaller planes you can spread thing out more.

An A380 is in the highest wake turbulence category (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wake_turbulence), requiring more separation from other airplanes in-flight. There are other issues that may reduce the advantage of an A380 over smaller aircraft, like taxiway width limitation and runway weight limitations.

NYC to London presumably could still support the larger plane.

There's something like 70 London to New York flights a day so in theory yes from a passenger numbers PoV it could support the A380 once there's terminal infrastructure.

But one of the reasons BA run so many flights (10?) a day is so that customers have choice and flexibility - it's not unknown for people to book business or first class seats on multiple flights in the same day so they can fly earlier if their schedule allows

Sure, there is convenience to having multiple flights a day. However, over say a half-dozen, diminishing returns kick in.

Well BA run 12 flights a day between London and NYC (9 from Heathrow, 1 each from City and Gatwick) and it seems to work for them.

They're catering to the people traveling business class who want flexibility and it seems to work for them - they run something like 86 biz class seats and only 140ish economy on some flights

Unlikely. Those who really want to get to Stockholm will not get on the NYC to London plane if they can get a direct plane. Substitute ALL other cities in Europe for Stockholm and a fair number of people are not on that plane. Those who do want to get from NYC to London have different schedules, some want to take the 5am flight and get to London in the afternoon, some want to get to the airport at a normal time and still get to London at a good hour. Some want to leave right after the days work is done. Some want a last supper with their family before leaving... Smaller planes are customer friendly. Also smaller planes leaves more room for redundancy - if one plane is broke you have less people who need to be rerouted to some other planes making it more likely you can get everyone to London without a major delay.

You may be underestimating the number of passengers flying direct between two megacities sharing a similar culture/language.

Here on the west coast there is a packed to the gills flight almost every hour from LA to Houston, and more than one airline servicing the route as well.

British Airways recently added London-Chicago on a a380.

They killed their 747 and replaced it with an A380. Always had 2-3 flights per day ORD-LHR.

They also already have a London-DC A380 flight almost daily.


I've been flying Raleigh to London nonstop every 2 or 3 years since 1995. I don't know if there is a direct to Paris flight.

There's one (on DL) but it doesn't fly daily until peak season.

Other people have mentioned the new, higher-efficiency planes, but the reason they've had this much effect is that they've caused a fundamental shift in the architecture of airline routes by killing the "hub and spokes" model. Instead of using small planes to move passengers to the big hub airports, it is now faster and cheaper to fly direct even for long routes, turning decades-old wisdom about airlines on it's head.

It is a well known fact. The 747-8 and A380 have collapsed in terms of new orders and both companies have acknowledge they lack a way forward.

To quote Boeing president of marketing Randy Tinseth:

> We don’t see significant demand for passenger 747-8s or A380s

The last major order for the 747-8 (28 aircraft) was in 2016 and 2014 for the A380 (13 aircraft). Enough to keep production alive for another few years, but after that it is unclear. And even then many of those are for cargo/freight, not people.

Has Boeing stopped making 747-8F (freighter)? It was my understanding that a slower build rate of 747-8F would continue. Back in 2012 Boeing touted that half of all air freight was being moved by 747s [1]; I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Airbus would make a freighter version of the A380 to exploit it's greater lift capacity.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20121011082258/http://www.boeing...

For cargo, the 747 variants are doing ok. The A380 has some problems with being a cargo plane https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCJrg7j8Uag

They have 24 open orders and are making 0.5 a month. 767 has 111 open orders for freighters and aerial refueling tankers. Both are on their last legs.

Emirates ordered 20 confirmed + 16 options only last year: https://www.emirates.com/media-centre/emirates-orders-36-a38...

But it seems likely they will be the end of the line.

Lower cost/passenger, called CASM (Cost Per Available Seat Mile) only gets you so far without taking into account the other side of the equation: RASM (Revenue Per Available Seat Mile). Empty seats and heavily discounted tickets are not good for business. The more seats, the lower CASM, but also the lower RASM.

Double deckers are very efficient by design, but the newest airliners are nearly as efficient as (or even more efficient than) an A380.

This is ultimately the equation. There are not very many routes that you can fill up an A380 on without cutting ticket prices enough to get people to change their schedule. Add to that:

1. It takes a long time to load that many people, so it only makes sense on long routes.

2. You need special facilities at the airport: bigger taxiways, special gates, large waiting areas, extra customs officials. This cuts into the profits.

3. Since there are so few routes, you won't have many 380s, but you still need a set of pilots trained on them, plus a reserve in case people get sick, can't make it to the airport, etc. That reserve crew isn't shared with your other smaller aircraft, so it's an additional expense. The same thing goes for maintenance.

4. Much of the theoretical fuel and maintenance economies of scale you get from flying a larger aircraft are lost with four engines instead of two.

On point 4: four engines have some disadvantages, but in terms of fuel consumption the difference is within 1% or 2% of two engines. The issue has more to do with maintenance, and reliability: with two extra engines, you are that much more likely to have one going tech and be grounded.

EDIT: interesting link, that contradicts some of what I say above: https://leehamnews.com/2015/12/11/bjorns-corner-twins-or-qua...

Also, aircraft are certified to be able to complete take-off with one engine failure.

Thus, twin engines have to have basically 100% reserve, while the 4 engines only need to have 33% reserve (to make up for one engine failing).

Norwegian currently have a 787 stuck in Iran with a broken engine, so I'm not sure they can take off with only one engine

From what I gather, certification requires that they can take off successfully if an engine fails during the take-off run (after V1). I doubt that they're allowed to leave with half the engines inoperational already.

With you… like this Thomson plane that had a failure due to bird ingestion during take off at Manchester - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KhZwsYtNDE

For point 3. I believe Airbus has a lot of commonality between its cockpits on different aircraft, so it is easier to get type certified on an A350 or A320 if the pilot already has a rating on the A380. This means the reserve crew can fly the other smaller planes when not required for the A380. Boeing has not had this commonality until recently - I think it was a selling point for the 787 that it had the same cockpit layout as the 777, thus minimising crew training.

And then there's the airport gate retrofit cost that the A380 has. The 777X has a clever solution to that (folding wing tipes), but it's still smaller in capacity.

Hub and spoke model is getting replaced by point to point model.

I’m not sure that is true, though you do hear people say it from time to time.

I believe that the ratio of hub and spoke routes vs point to point routes will dynamically shift in response to demand and to external factors like laws, fuel prices, aircraft efficiency, etc.

The hub and spoke model is usually the more compelling economic model to serve many low demand cities by pooling passengers as well as for routing flexibility. Hub and spoke will never truly be replaced.

Whereas point to point is more efficient for high demand city pairs. Modern composite material ( fuel efficient ) aircraft also make it feasible to fly segments with lower load factors, up to a point, so you don’t need to fill up a plane to make a route viable, making it possible to bypass hubs. Even then you would never fly point to point from say Des Moines to Asheville NC. You might fly to a non hub airport like RDU, but if enough flights end up at RDU it becomes a de facto regional hub like CLT.

Depending on the demand patterns of flight routes, airlines can reconfigure routes to fly to hubs or point to point or a mix of both, whichever maximizes profit, so it’s not an either-or.

Not particularly; most growth is still at hubs

Hubs are all very big cities. very big cities are growing faster than small ones in general. Big cities not quite big /lucky enough to be a hub are getting point to point routes that are farther away than just hubs. Small cities still have flights only to hubs.

Of course this depends on the destination. Even tiny airports often have point to point trips to Las Vegas on dirt cheap airlines because that is a popular destination.

The dagger in the heart of the big 4-engine aircraft are the changes in the ETOPS allowances¹ by the regulatory bodies.

Used to be you needed the redundancy of four power plants to provide the needed nines to cross the ocean and still ensure (well, meet the statistic standard) that you could make land with one engine out.

The reliability of the modern turbofans allow the big twins to take almost the same transoceanic flight path as the 4-engine planes. Considering the complexity and cost of running 4 engines vs 2, it's a no-brainer to give up a few percentage points on ETE for a massive cost savings.

(me: licensed aircraft dispatcher)


(I hope that comment wasn't a dupe; I was on mobile and didn't see anyone else yet go over that aspect of the sitch.)

The A380 is in a particularly difficult position because of its width. It requires an upgraded (expensive) terminal. This limits the airports it can service, further marginalizing it.

You might enjoy watching [1].

TLDR: There's a ~20 year lead time on a radical new plane design. The A380 is designed for an airline industry dominated by 'hub-and-spoke' airlines (where a large plane can make efficient use of expensive landing slots at busy airports), while the 787 Dreamliner is designed for an airline industry dominated by 'point-to-point' airlines (where a small plane can avoid the busy airport and expensive landing slot by serving smaller airports).

20 years after they were both conceived of, it's looking like the hub-and-spoke model is the future.

Oh, there's still some demand for such a plane, and some routes are busy enough to benefit from it. But if there isn't enough demand to keep the production lines open, the production lines get closed, leaving existing operators high and dry. That fact makes operators nervous to place orders, which is of course a vicious cycle.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlIdzF1_b5M

> 20 years after they were both conceived of, it's looking like the hub-and-spoke model is the future.

That seems like a typo. Did you mean the point-to-point is the future?

I watched that video a while ago, and although it presents a lot of facts, I would carefully weigh and consider the conclusion.

Bear in mind also that the author of that video is a 21-year-old college student who is an enthusiast -- not that that should lessen the weight of the facts presented, but merely that its conclusion may not be the authoritative airline industry view from a grizzled veteran that some might perceive it to be. There's plenty of room for debate there.

Point-to-point was actually the past, and hub-and-spoke became dominant for many reasons, and now fuel-efficient long-range aircraft makes it possible to shift some routes back to point-to-point, so it does appear to be on an uptrend. What's old is new again.

Any categorical claim that point-to-point is the future has to be examined critically. My belief is that neither will be the exclusive routing model -- it will all be determined by the economics and constraints of flying in the future, and no one can predict that. There are operations research people at airlines that tune models for optimal routing based on various conditions, and when the environment changes, the optimum shifts as well and the airline will have to shift with it.

Engines, engine maintenance, and fuel are a huge expense for airlines. Twin engine airplanes can only scale up so far. When designers have to add four engines that drives costs way up and efficiency goes down.

I faked a leg injury to get on first the one and only time I've been on an A380. Took the opportunity to walk around the craft... when I got to the back spiral staircases the immense size kinda hit me.

I was really disappointed with the A380, having been told there was a noticeable difference. It was just like any other place, and being British Airways in 2017 the overall service was very much no-frills, verging on comparable to Ryanair.

I don't see anyway blimps ever return for passenger travel. Too slow and too inefficient. For luxury travel with beds and showers and fine dining, trains would be far more practical.

The A350 has staircases IIRC ?

I don't believe it does, at least not in a typical configuration.

The only true double-deckers are the 747 and the A380. Some other wide-bodies have been configured with a galley below the passenger deck, so flight crew have stairs but not passengers.

Maybe there's a variant with lavatories below deck? If so, it's not common.

The A340 in a few airlines (Lufthansa for sure, others probably too) has a set of lavatories below deck. So other than the 747 and A380 that’s the only other plane I can think of with stairs for passengers.

I flew on the Lufthansa A340 from MUC to SFO and very much liked their lavatory setup. Having 6 lavatories in one spot solved very much the logistics of selecting the right one and reduced the waiting time. Also, it is nice not to sit besides the constantly closing doors.

What’s interesting is the extra security measures: lots of handles to hold onto and oxygen masks for the pax down there waiting for the toilets.

Ah correct, that's the one for the crew, not passengers. My bad.

It doesn't currently, although some airlines looking at the A350-900ULR are considering adding some amenities in the cargo haul, which would be accessed via a staircase similar to what some A340-600 operators did.

The A350-900ULR is used by Singapore Airlines on the Singapore - New York flight that clocks 18 hours and a half. To be able to fly that far it needs to be light on payload: few passengers, no cargo. So there's some empty space in there...

airlander 10 for you

It’s an interesting aircraft and nice to fly in, but commercially it was the wrong plane with the wrong technology at the wrong time.

Boeing got some flack at the time when they canceled their own superjumbo plans but history now shows they were spot on shifting their focus to the 787 and getting a head start on the efficient midsize long range jet market.

>but commercially it was the wrong plane with the wrong technology at the wrong time.

I think the consensus is that it is the right plane, right technology at the wrong time (it missed the 747-era, and too early for a future when 4-engine jumbo-jets may make a comeback).

It was built with ‘old’ technology when it was designed. For example aluminum when new designers were using composites.

Airbus bet on a bigger airplane built with traditional techniques while Boeing bet on a smaller airplane made with new techniques.

That's not completely true: the A380 is using composite extensively, more so than any aircraft built before (A330/340 or Boeing 777), although less than either Boeing 787 or A350. The problem of the A380 really boils down to one thing: it's too big.

Other than its size, the A380 is still surprisingly efficient despite engines that are largely outdated (compared to 787/A350 engines). But double deckers are very efficient by design, so maybe it's not that surprising. I think the only airliners more efficient currently flying (in terms of fuel per passenger, with normalized density/layout) are the A350-1000 and 787-10 (though one could argue the latter is more of a mid-range aircraft, so not directly comparable). The 777-9 will also beat it. Even more surprising when realizing that the A380 is in fact a shrink: there was supposed to be an even bigger (longer) version, so it's overbuilt (read: overweight) for its size.

But empty seats (or seats sold at very high discount, or a low seat count because the airline knows it's not going to sell that many tickets to begin with) don't make it economically viable on most routes out there. Besides Emirates only British Airways seems very happy with them. Even the 777-9 is starting to feel like it's too big, with very few airlines ordering it. Even the smaller A350-1000 is not raking in orders...

>For example aluminum when new designers were using composites

The A380 makes pretty extensive use of composites. It's only conservative in this respect compared to the Dreamliner.

That will make for a very nice book in business schools

The 380 also can’t do cargo, which is still a popular use case for the 747 and why they are still being made.

I got upgraded from business class to first class on an Emirates A380 flight from Dubai to London a couple of years ago. Showering mid-flight was an experience I'd never forget! Especially, the gauge in the shower which goes down while the water's running (Lasted about 8 minutes, IIRC) :)

I had a similar fortune from Dubai to Munich. The shower was really the cherry on top of an incredible experience. My other favorite moment was when I got my starters and got asked "would you like some Vodka with your caviar?". The entire flight was just outrageously entertaining - unlike the following flight on economy class

There is (was?) a A380 flight with Emirates from Dubai via Bangkok to Hong Kong, and back, and you could buy tix for that last segment BKK–HKG for about 200 USD, or 300 USD business, or 400 USD first.

Cheapest way to get a shower at 35k feet (without miles wizardry), I’d think! (And who doesn’t want to shower on a 2 hour flight... :-)

If you buy a First-class ticket, don't just enjoy the parts of the flight itself, but also the optimizations around it. With my first-class flight from Dubai to Munich it was impressively efficient:

I got picked up at my Hotel in Dubai, in a car with WiFi where I could have worked, until the Driver dropped me at the first-class gate. No queues, friendly staff, dropped my luggage and went through security within 5 minutes of leaving the car. Went straight to the lounge, where I got drinks and could have worked some more, until I got picked up for boarding. First class is the last to board, to minimize waiting time in the airplane. Same idea goes on arrival: First class leaves first. I got straight to passport control before the 500 people from the lower deck were able to form a queue there. When I was done, my luggage was already waiting for me, picked it up and met my driver to get me home - again all within probably 5 minutes of leaving the plane. This first class flight really was designed to enable the traveler to be most efficient with their time.

That the luggage was ready was most impressive to me. At least Emirates marked the luggage, and probably loaded it in a way that first&business luggage gets out first, and fast.

That’d be a great smart appliance for homes with tank water heaters.

One of the less obvious concerns about the retiring of the A380 would be the write down of all the infrastructure that Airbus invested in to be able to build these planes. It does seem like the "future of flight" is efficient, smaller, twin jets rather than these 'super tankers' of the sky.

One of the interesting tours you can go on in Everett WA is the Boeing 'Future of Flight' tour where you see the building where they are now building 777 and 787's but were originally building 747s. The adaptations to handle the smaller aircraft are pretty creative but the costs larger tooling is just written off. On a program that lived as long as the 747 has that isn't a big deal, but when you've only made 20% of the planes you expected to make? I would think that has to hurt your profitability.

It took a long time for the 747 to reach break-even, but after that every one sold was a huge infusion of cash to Boeing. The 747 was an enormous bet-the-company gamble, and it paid off enormously.

I think you sort of have to plan for it to be like that. If you tried to pay for all the tooling on the sales of the first 100 you would likely price yourself out of the market. So somewhere an analyst has to say, "Our lowest predicted lifetime volume is <a>, our expected volume is <b>, and our exceeds volume would be <c>." and then look at how much per plane to charge to pay off the tooling.

It sounds from the press coverage that Airbus is coming in below even their lowest forecast lifetime volume, which my just be exaggeration on the press' part, but if true it means some write downs are in Airbus' future.

I would not suggest pricing things in this way. The analysts should look at what competing products cost, and where is ours unique and what advantage does it give the airline. Convert that advantage over competing products to a dollar amount. Add that to the price of the competing product. Subtract some so you always win when the customer does their own cost/benefit analysis.

If you price your products based on your costs, you're either losing profit-margin or sales (sales, because you're making the wrong thing at the wrong price).

I like your description but it has challenges in the implementation when hardware is involved, especially manufactured hardware.

To reason about pricing in a hardware world, I find it helpful to think of dollars as a stream of units coming in for each sale, and a stream of units going out when I am buying parts and assembling things. Then one can start from time 0 (the initial start point), run the math over a period of time, and then at the end compare how much money you have. If we think of the money supply at time zero to be M0, and the money supply at the end to be M1, we can make some initial statements like this:

If M0 > M1 then we have lost money over the time period.

If M0 == M1 then we have neither gained nor lost money (but we may have acquired things that have some value so is isn't necessarily bad)

If M0 < M1 then we have gained money in addition to anything else we may have acquired over that time period.

When building new hardware, there are four kinds of costs we might consider. One is salaries, benefits, and office space for people who are designing that hardware. The next is anything that we have to pay for once but can reuse during the manufacturing process (we will call that our non-recurring expense or NRE). The third is the cost to by the parts that go into one of our widgets. The final cost is the wear and tear on our equipment used to build the widgets, we know that once those things wear out we will have to replace them if we want to keep making widgets!

Now we can analyze the "life cycle" of our product. In phase 1, we look at are first the money we pay out in salaries and NRE to get ready to make widgets. Since there is no money coming in at that time, it all comes out of savings (or the M0 starting value). We will call that the startup cost or $S.

In phase 1, each widget we sell nets us some dollars (revenue yay!). We have to pay for parts (boo hoo), and we incur wear and tear on our equipment and we will label those $C and $D. The time it takes for your equipment to wear out is a guess, it could be 5 years it could be 20 years, but we need to guess what it is. This will be our first guess where we probably don't know the exact value. Remember it is the money we have to replace all the gear (we know that cost) but we have to guess how much the time it will take to wear out. Given our time guess we will divide the cost by the time and that will give us cost per unit time. The other thing we have flexibility on in phase 1 is the price we sell our widgets for, we want to do all the pricing exercises that you mention, but before we do those, we ll will take the cost of parts that go into a widget (call it $C), the time it takes to make a widget, and the price we want to sell a widget for $P. This slightly more complicated math lets us write out a formula for money gained, or lost like this:

   $M = ($P - $C) / time to make - $D.
That is actually in units of dollars per unit time, but we can set the variables and solve for $P to find out at what price we don't lose money while in Phase 1, if we can sell enough units per unit time.

Now we have enough things we can write some interesting reasoning about this. If we sell our units so that they only cover the cost of production. Then at the end we will end up with (M0 - $S) we'll have less money overall because our startup costs are not recovered, but we will have a design that of a widget. If the time period is less than the life time of our factory tools, we will still have a factory that can make widgets.

We can also solve for a price and number of widgets, that is equal to $D (assumming $M is zero you can move $D to the left hand side and see that $P - $C / time has to equal $D. That tells us the minimum rate, of widget manufacture and sales we need to keep up with the cost of wearing out our factory.

Now lets throw a wrench into the mix. Lets say you didn't do any of this, instead you just stuck your M0 money in a fund somewhere making 5% guaranteed compounded annual interest. If you do that, you can come up with a number for M1 (the ending balance of money) based on time.

Now after all of that, you can compare making widgets at a variable price $P and reason about if you make more or less money over a time period $T than you would make just sitting there with the money in an investment fund doing "nothing"[1].

What I like to keep in mind when doing this sort of exercise, either on an idea I have or when someone is telling me about theirs, is to evaluate if there is a price $P where, at the end of a period of time, you have more money than if you just sat on it. That extra money will fund additional ideas, having less than I started with means if I do it long enough I have to go back to work for someone else to trade my time and expertise for more money.

The amount someone is willing to pay for your widget that is greater than the number where you end up with exactly as much money as you would have if you did nothing, that is the "value proposition" for your idea. That is how much "value" it has, over and above just investing in a fund. But, as you recognize, you can just charge anything for a product, you want to charge just a bit less, or have way more perceived value than the competitor's product. If the number you get when you plug that price in to the above equations doesn't leave you with the same or more money than the 'do nothing' choice, then you need to look at the cost equation and figure out if there is some way to lower costs so that it does. On the other hand, if the prices you can charge are easily competitive and you still make more money than the do nothing option? Then you need to figure out how to protect the advantage you discovered so that you can make that money for a period of time before competitors copy you.

And of course it is all different for software only products. But that is a much longer note.

[1] Yes the funds are invested in companies that are doing things but "you" are not doing anything with your money.

My direct flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt on a Lufthansa A380 (in premium economy) is a delight. I go out of my way to get that flight on that plane. Room to stretch out and walk around makes such a difference. But I don't know what the economics behind planes like this is - maybe it's not so great an experience for the airlines as it is for passengers.

I've had the luck of doing this flight in 1st class a few times. It is bar-none the best flying experience I've ever had. There is little to no sound pollution up that far. They have closets instead of overhead bins, so you have tall ceilings that really open up the space. The bathrooms are huge. No showers, but huge. It is the only flight experience where I've gotten off the plane feeling more rested than when I got on.

I've done the opposite flight on Lufthansa in an A380 in cattle class, it's still a delight. The A380 is still exceedingly quiet and comfortable, and the Lufthansa product was exceptional (especially compared to United). That said there's probably a fair amount of pressure for the German flag carrier to fly the premier German plane.

Agreed. Even flying economy the A380 feels a lot less cramped than any other plane I've flown on and for long-haul flights, that's a big deal.

Not an aviation nerd, but had a local one explain a particular A380 issue to me. About once a month the main daily SYD/MEL to LAX routes had to turn around and it was pretty much always the Rolls Royce engine (one of two engine manufacturers for redundancy). And then it started happening on the other engine as well. Can't confirm the frequency, but when I was talking to a Qantas crew member about this over a year ago he nodded and said they won't be purchasing any new A380s. He said he felt they were bought for the marketing "me too" reason more than anything else.

EDIT: That being said I loved the A380, I frequently flew premium economy intl. on it and even if you could wrangle the small (something like 20 row?) economy section upstairs it felt less like cattle class.

That doesn't sound right (well, Qantas did have RR engine trouble, as did all RR engined A380s) as all A380 fleets have four of the same type/manufacturer of engine (RR or GE, depending on the airline) and it will be common across all the planes in the fleet. It doesn't make sense to have to double up on maintenance costs, equipment and engineering staff with two types, plus the added risk of a GE bolt/whatever accidentally fitted to a RR engine causing an accident...

The front row — only 2 seats wide — of that upstairs economy section is a great little place to travel with a partner. The small cabin makes it feel much more premium.

I am not giving up on the A380 yet! :) While it might be more profitable for the airlines to use the large 2-engined planes on more direct routes, air traffic is still increasing. Yet, most international airports already are operating at their capacity. So I wonder when the point is reached, where it is no longer possible to add more flights to increase the passenger count. Then, larger airplanes would be needed.

At that point the A380 will be a 30-40 year old design, and won't be competitive anymore.

Road transportation accounts for ~50% of oil consumption. In 20 years most cars may be electric. And if renewables continue growing such that oil consumption isn't simply shifted to power plants, the fuel inefficiency of the A380 may matter much less.

Also, the shift to point-to-point can only grow so much before the fuel efficiencies of the 787 and A350 come into equilibrium with the density of the A380. Moreover, most of the world continues to flock to mega cities. As cities expand airport usage increases while simultaneously making it more costly to expand or build airports.

But 20 years, let alone 40 years, is a long ways out; who knows what will transpire. That said, the 777 is 25 years old and still dominating. At 30 and 35 years it still may be dominating even as the 777X slowly replaces it. A 30-year-old A380 may still be no less relevant, if not more relevant, than today.

I think aviation probably has a huge time-to-market compared to almost every other technology field; the B-52 first flew in 1952 and is scheduled to be decommissioned around 2050 (!)

Aircraft bought today will be in service for at least several decades; it wouldn't be profitable for airlines to dump cash into them otherwise.

A380 development started in earnest in 2000, it first flew in 2005. It seems reasonable that we could have a jumbo jet designed in 2035 fly in 2040.

The B52 is still flying, but a bomber doesn't need to be economical to operate like an airliner has to. The US military can't be said to have a limited fuel budget.

Sure, airliners operate for decades, but when they're bought they're state of the art. The A380 isn't economical to operate now.

I think Airbus can survive this. The other aircraft are selling well. If they have to write down sunk cost it won't sink the company. Boeing has basically had to walk from the 747 and even the presidential flight will be using otherwise available shells (I believe)

QANTAS didn't survey its passengers to make this decision. Had they asked the recurring business flyer, I suspect the signal would have been different, even if the economic decision was to walk.

I am a frequent QANTAS passenger. I know from all my experiences and peers discussions, we prefer the 380 over almost any shell QANTAS flies.

I flew the original QANTAS 747 longhauls. They were fine for their day. They are significantly behind the ball compared to the 380 experience. The 350 will be a fine plane. the 787 is a compromised experience in the air.

(btw, it is QANTAS not Quantas: Its an Acronym)

(It doesn't seem like it's an acronym anymore: http://www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/history/global/en)

Yea. Looks like you're right. they prefer the Qantas branding, so I'm in the junkheap of history.

I'll try and learn to use Qantas not QANTAS.

It is not "QANTAS" and it isn't an acronym.

In October 1947 QANTAS was bought out by the government and shutdown. The company that exists today is the descendent of Qantas Empire Airlines (notice the different capitalisation) which was founded in 1934 as a joint venture by QANTAS and BOAC (British Overseas Air Corporation). When the joint venture was founded the name chosen was not an acronym and was not all uppercase. That name was "inspired by" QANTAS Limited but is not QANTAS.


TIL. Amazing how you can still believe stuff which has never been true, for all of your life (it was never true for me that QANTAS existed since it ceased to exist before 1961) and only really learn it end-stage.

I suspect its one of these things Queenslanders want to be true, but we have to accept the reality. (I also thought BOAC persisted long beyond BA. I dont think I saw a BOAC jet but I sure saw BOAC turboprops in Edinburgh)

> the 787 is a compromised experience in the air.

Why do you say that?

Dense seating in economy, is the sole reason. The airlines decided to ignore the Premium trend, and made economy basic as densely packed as they can, and provide limited premium economy to guarantee it had high margin and was full. So, business and premium on a 787 is great, but economy is really really tragically bad, as a long-haul experience.

787 for shorthaul, nobody cares. Ask anyone who sits in the cheap class about 787 for >10hrs, compared to the 747 economy, or the 380 economy experience.

The lower effective air cabin flight height (higher pressure, moister air) and the new lighting, and bigger windows are very good for everyone, But the shrinking seat, shrinking legroom, lack of aisle access, the shrinking toilet? very bad.

I fly premium and business. I am empathising what I am told, not what I live. I've flown 15h+ flights up front in a 787 and it was fantastic. Some of the best flights I've had over trans polar landscapes. Amazing. Sucks to be poor.

> Dense seating in economy, is the sole reason

On the Qantas 787 (which I fly regularly MEL<>SFO) the seats in economy are IMO better than the A380 (which I used to fly MEL<>LAX)

787 economy has 32 inch pitch; 17.2inch width: https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Qantas_Airways/Qantas_Airw...

A380 economy has 31 inch pitch; 17.5inch width: https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Qantas_Airways/Qantas_Airw...

To each their own, I suppose, but fwiw I love the 787, even economy, for longhaul. I fly a mix of longhaul business and economy, depending on who's paying. When I get off a 787 at the end with no noticeable jetlag, it's pretty amazing. And that's the part of the experience I tend to remember, along with how much I was able to get done on the flight due to no dehydration-induced fuzzy-brain. By comparison, I don't even notice slightly less room.

I cannot agree more. QF Premium economy on the 787 is ok (the A380 is as good or better I think), and business class is fantastic, but I spent about 7 minutes in an econ class seat recently and I was not looking forward to how my back was going to feel by the end. Really needed to be a 2-4-2, not a 3-3-3 - it's just not wide enough to support 3-3-3.

"Is there a market" has always been a big question for very large aircraft. The C-5A flew in 1968, and there was talk of a civilian model. But nobody wanted a commercial aircraft that big.

The problem is wingspan; those planes are difficult in the terminal area, the wingspan on a 380 is at the maximum limit for many airports. So unless airports get rebuilt, those large wingspan airplanes are going to be limited compared to the smaller options. It’s a 262 ft wingspan. The C5 Galaxy is 223 ft; a Galaxy would “fit” fine at most airports, but the 380 is cutting it very close. An Antonov has a 290ft wingspan which would make it impossible to use as a normal passenger plane (although they’re very popular in Houston for shipping oilfield equipment.) The 380 is a fun plane, but it’s of limited usefulness beyond passenger load.

When you increase the size of an aircraft, you reduce the discomfort associated with weather conditions. If the occupancy rate is good, you also increase fuel efficiency. To have good occupancy rate, you need to organize and to have many airports supporting big aircrafts. This is only political and Boeing is a very strong political influencer to harm competition. Like for Concorde, when Boeing fails on technical, they use political tricks.

“If the occupancy rate is good, you also increase fuel efficiency” is only true if all else is equal. In this case, it’s not: the hop from 2-engine to 4-engine hurts fuel efficiency and adds to cost/complexity of the aircraft.

What are the political tricks that Boeing used to discourage Emirates and Qantas from buying Airbus?

Very sad, having flown the A380 many times and it even once saved my life due to it’s masterfully engineered airframe and systems (uncontained engine explosion, the only accident A380 ever had). It seems we aren’t able to build anything great or unique anymore without it failing in the market (Concorde, A380). More cattle class mediocraty flying on 737s from the 60s and 3-3-3 seating 787s etc

Boom and others are trying to re-enter the supersonic space with smaller jets.

The main problem with Concorde was that it couldn't fill up seats at the ticket prices being charged, and transatlantic subsonic flights were both more comfortable at the equivalent ticket price, and at the flying time sweet spot of 6-8 hours, which is long enough to just sleep and wake up in the morning.

Had SSTs come of age in the '80s and had a range closer to 6000nm, then they probably would've taken off for transpacific flights. 6000nm from HNL gets you to pretty much all of East Asia, Singapore, and the entirety of North America.

The accidents didn’t help either, right? I like the idea of Boom, but would much prefer the engineering from either Airbus or Boeing.

I think all this talk “MVP” and startups so often in the same sentence over nearly a decade now makes me worried that Boom won’t have enough resources to achieve anything less than an exceptional job with regards to safety.

And my life isn’t worth risking to save a few hours of travel time by putting it in the hands of a startup.

The FAA doesn't hand out flight certifications like candy. I wouldn't be worried too much.

Concorde's only fatal accident was a result of running over debris that punctured the fuel tank and burst a tire, so it wasn't necessarily any issue with the plane itself. Conveniently enough, this also happened near the EOL of the plane, right before a recession and 9/11.

I've found DJ's Aviation channel on YouTube to be a good source of information on this type of stuff. He has a new video on this subject https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzvT71flRII&t=0s

I flew on an Air France A380 from CDG to SFO a few months ago seated in premium economy. It was an outstanding flight, comfortable and pleasant. I would choose to fly on an A380 over most of the other long distance aircraft, given the choice.

I can't help think ETOPS are going too far. One day a big twin will fly from Sydney to Santiago and develop double engine trouble and the 3-4 engine minimum will be mandated again.

It is sad it seems to be dying - from a “wow that can fly” point of view - but at this point it looks like the a380 was the wrong bet :-/

An Emirates A380 flies over my house on it's way to IAD most mornings as I'm walking to work.

It really is an amazing sight. It absolutely dwarves everything else in the sky.

With one flying over my house right now I don't believe they are heading for the boneyard any time soon. For London Heathrow there is no better plane for the operator with not that many slots.

Nowadays there are budget airlines using budget airports with very long taxi rides to somewhere useful. You can't argue with price. Yet right now we are in an age of cheap oil that facilitates this. Had we not had the taps fully open and the fuel taxed then maybe the A380 would be king and it be hard to justify the budget flight model.

Brexit really is not helping the A380 cause. The wings are made in a part of England that was changed to be Wales so that an EU development grant could be obtained. In the post-Brexit world where nobody in power cares about jobs it is likely that Airbus rationalise production and give the formerly United Kingdom the heave-ho. They can make all the A380's the world really needs and call it a day in Blighty.

> part of England that was changed to be Wales so that an EU development grant could be obtained.

Is that true? I see the border was last changed in 1972, but that's well before the EU and regional development funding was thought about.


I can't remember the Tory Brexiteer that signed it off, but it is essentially the Wirral, as in Merseyside, not Wales as we know it. Sadly I am out of touch with politics these days to have the recall of what went on as it was a while ago when I paid attention to these things. There was a fiddle there though and it wasn't way back in the 1970's.

I can't find any evidence to back the assertion that the border was moved - an the factory is a reasonable distance from it

I'd like to offer "dwarfs" as a spelling of this word.

You are correct. Dwarves is plural dwarf noun. Dwarfs is the verb.

I've been fortunate to fly Emirates A380 numerous times. The most impressive flying experience I've ever had, both from Emirates customer service as well as the A380 experience.

I call it the Flytanic!

I have the pleasure of a nice view overlooking Copenhagen Airport. It's at a far enough distance that most airliners kind of disappear when doing their final approach, and an A380 showing up really puts the size differences on display. It looks like a huge whale or cruise ship floating over the landscape.

How much of the problem is Rolls-Royce over promising and under delivering?

In hindsight, it's telling that even the biggest A380 operator didn't actually buy the plane themselves - they leased it through various special-purpose vehicles which were then sliced into various investment portfolios. Goldman Sachs is one investment bank that set up some of the structures for this - https://www.goldmansachs.com/s/2012annual/assets/downloads/G...

Isn't this kind of financial engineering SOP for all sorts of large assets since decades?

Except that the issuer of the security is the lessor in this case, not the airline. The airline can just give the plane back to Doric after the 12-year lease period (which ends in 2020-2021 for the first batch of aircraft), and let Doric deal with the investors.

This is in contrast to, say, recent deals by United Airlines Inc, where the airline (or its related party, such as its parent holding company United Continental Holdings Inc) was the entity issuing the security.

Is it possible to short these securities?

It's pretty common for airlines to lease planes rather than buy them themselves

The A380 and 747 are both remarkable aircraft, but I love my direct flights to all major cities within 1000 miles, and many beyond that. Electric airliners are likely to bring this ratio into even more profound focus, offering direct flights to thousands of smaller cities you didn't know you wanted to go to, until it takes 30 minutes to fly instead of 3 hours to drive. And with so many airports linking up mass transit, the air travel network is almost an extension of public transit. If you're like me and fly with TSA-Pre, showing up at the airport 10 minutes ahead of gate call can become a regular and reliable thing. Good times ahead!

For those of you in the Bay Area, this is like having a cheap ticket to fly to South Lake Tahoe, or commuting from Santa Rosa to San Jose. Operators like Surf Air might become commonplace. And the A380 and 747 had to die as airliners came to realize this is the future.

>Electric airliners are likely to bring this ratio into even more profound focus, offering direct flights to thousands of smaller cities you didn't know you wanted to go to

(All) electric airliners are unlikely to exist commercially without a fundamental breakthrough in energy storage technology. Even hybrid-electric systems are only barely viable as a research area right now, and they are decades away from commercial production.

I'm a researcher in this field, and I wish I could say otherwise, but the rosy picture you paint is unlikely to be reality at least within the next 3-4 decades.

Yes. I think a lot of people envisage performance improvements like in semiconductors, doubling every 2 years or so. In reality, battery tech seems to be improving at maybe 5% or so annually, doubling every 15 years, or so (please correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t work in the field).

Given the specific energy of kerosene vs batteries, at least two doublings seem necessary for things to get commercially viable. So, 3+ decades seems reasonable, lamentably.

Kerosene also benefits from the fact that it is consumed over the course of the flight, so that an airplane gets lighter and therefore less fuel-intensive as it flies. The weight of enough batteries for a fully electric narrow-body airliner is punishing when you consider that you have to carry that weight around all the time instead of it steadily decreasing from takeoff onward. I haven't run the numbers, but off the cuff I'd estimate that you need at least one more doubling of energy density to account for the higher average weight of the aircraft in flight.

Now you have to hope you can maintain sustained consistent improvements for half a century just to get into the realm where battery energy densities start to make sense for a fully electric airliner with the same capabilities as our fully hydrocarbon based airliners of today. And of course it's not anywhere near as simple as swapping the engines on existing air frames, so if you want to have your electric airplane the day that the batteries exist, you need to make a pretty sizeable bet today by investing in the groundwork for all of the other systems.

Are artificial fuels (i.e. hydrogen or something we can make from hydrogen) going to be viable for flying within a reasonable timeframe?

Whilst I expect that short-haul flights will be replaced by high-speed trains we're still going to need planes for intercontinental travel.

EasyJet are hoping to have electric planes covering the London-Amsterdam route in 2030: https://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/1039041/flights-ea....

High speed trains are unlikely to replace short hop air transport in America. The fact is that rights of way don't exist, and land acquisition is enormously expensive. Freight dominates the railways.

> Are artificial fuels (i.e. hydrogen or something we can make from hydrogen)

There is no difference between a synthesized fuel and one pumped from the group - it's the same molecules. What matters is your energy source to make the synthesized fuel.

In any case hydrogen is a particularly bad fuel for airplanes. The best fuel is actually the one we already use.

By artificial fuels I mean ones created by us using renewable energy. If we can create something similar to current fuels from a renewable source then that would be fantastic.

I believe that hydrogen is being looked at a bit, but it presents some significant safety concerns since it needs to be compressed pretty substantially to get good energy densities. It's my general impression that the safety concerns outweigh the usefulness for the time being.

Right now, my organization is focused on a number of hybrid electrical approaches with the main goal being to minimize losses by using the descent phase to charge batteries that are then used to assist in climb on the next flight.

I haven't heard about the EasyJet proposal before. I'm looking for more info, but I can't find enough to form an intelligent opinion yet. Interestingly enough, it seems to be a YC backed company that's developing the vehicle.

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