Five things to know about the A380 superjumbo

An A380 Airbus superjumbo sits on the tarmac where it is dismantled at the site of French recycling and storage aerospace company Tarmac Aerosave in Tarbes, southwest France. (Reuters Photo)

Airbus announced on Thursday that it was pulling the plug on its flagship A380 superjumbo, the world's biggest commercial airliner, after just over a decade in service.

The announcement came after years of struggling to find buyers for the mammoth plane, while legacy clients like Qantas and Emirates walked back on plans to bulk up their A380 fleets.

Here are some facts about the A380, whose final deliveries are now set for 2021.

The double-decker plane stretches 73 metres (239 feet) from nose to tail and has a wing area of 845 square metres (9,100 square feet) -- enough to park 72 midsize cars on each wing.

Up to 853 passengers can be packed into the 550 square metre cabin, but most airlines use the traditional three-class configuration of first, business and economy, with around 500 seats in total.

Some carriers have added stylish first-class suites complete with full-length beds and showers, eye-catching bars, and duty-free shops on both decks.

The plane can weigh up to 578 tons when fully loaded for takeoff, and has a range of 15,200 kilometres (9,400 miles). 

It took some 15 years for the A380 to get from the drawing board to the runway, with manufacturing problems leading to at least four successive slips in the production schedule.

It was 18 months behind schedule -- with cost overruns of $6 billion (4.2 billion euros) -- before the first superjumbo was delivered to the inaugural customer, Singapore Airlines.

Airbus also had to deal with engine problems and other technical glitches -- in January 2008 Singapore Airlines grounded an A380 after its front wheels rolled off a runway while being towed for takeoff.

Last March, Airbus announced that slowing A380 production, as well as setbacks with the A400M military transport plane, would require 3,700 job cuts in Europe.

The A380 has 530 kilometres (328 miles) of wiring, roughly equivalent to the distance between Frankfurt and Paris, which proved a daunting challenge that caused delivery delays and billions of euros in cost overruns.

Potential clients also had to make sure airports were willing and able to extend runways for the huge jet, and modify terminal and jetway dimensions.

The four-engine airliner is built from parts made in France, Germany, Britain and Spain.

The A380 price officially stood at $446 million (396 million euros last year.

The A380's maiden commercial flight was made by Singapore Airlines on October 25, 2007, carrying a select 455 passengers from Singapore to Sydney.

Travellers from around the world booked their seats in an online charity auction, with one Briton, Julian Hayward, paying 100,000 dollars to sip Dom Perignon Rose 1996 champagne and eat caviar on the flight.

"It's a real bed and you really sink into it," said Hayward, who got pride of place in Suite 1A for being the top bidder.

Passengers marvelled at the plane's quiet cabin and smooth flight.

"I almost couldn't sleep because of the excitement," said another passenger, Canon Ling, as flight attendants handed out glasses of champagne in the aisles. "I want to be a part of history."

Airbus has delivered 234 A380s to 16 customers, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, Qatar, Air France and Korean Air.

It claims total orders reached just over 320 planes, but Australia's Qantas announced this month that it was cancelling eight A380s, and Airbus said Thursday that Emirates had reduced its total order by 39 planes.

Airbus said it delivered 12 of the giants to clients last year and would end its production in 2021 when the last two superjumbos will be delivered.

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