A Brief History
On April 27, 2005, Airbus, the multi-national European jetliner manufacturer, announced the first flight of its “Super Jumbo” passenger jet, the A380. Not content to give it just a partial upper deck such as the Boeing 747, the A380 has a full-width upper deck extending the entire length of the passenger cabin.
As the largest jet liner ever built, in its “3-class” mode, the A380 can carry 525 passengers in the first, second and economy classes. In its all-economy class configuration, it can carry a mind boggling 853 passengers! This capacity bests the 747-8 which has a 467 passenger 3-class capacity or at most a 605 all-economy class capacity. This ability to carry so many extra passengers results in greater profit for airlines and has resulted in the A380 outselling the 747-8 with 317 orders to 119 orders. The future of the 747-8 will apparently be as a cargo aircraft.
Even in terms of range, the A380 can outfly the 747 by about 500 nm and is capable of reaching a maximum distance of 8,500 nm. Also, the amount of floor space in the A380 is over 5,100 square feet, a 40% increase over the 747-8. Furthermore, the combined thrust of the A380’s 4 massive jet engines is 72,000 pounds, also besting the 747’s 66,500 pounds of thrust.
Compare these numbers between the Airbus A380, the “King of the Skies” and the Boeing 747, the “Queen of the Skies,” to the venerable Boeing 707, the first commercially successful passenger jetliner that debuted in 1957. It had a capacity of about 150 passengers and a range of 2,500 to 5,750 nm depending on configuration. The combined thrust of the 707’s 4 jet engines ranged from 13,000 to 19,000 pounds. Airplanes sure have come a long way since 1957!
With no loss of life in an accident and no loss of an entire plane, the A380 has had an exemplary safety record so far. With its huge size and enormous passenger capacity, however, a total loss of an A380 and its passengers would be a tremendous catastrophe, a prospect scary enough to give a person pause when considering the wisdom of putting so many people in one plane.
Question for students (and subscribers): How big can planes still get? Judging from the remarkable progress made since the Wright Brothers first flew, it literally seems like the sky’s the limit. Personally, I would be satisfied with more legroom and easier access to bathrooms on passenger flights, how about you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Norris, Guy and Mark Wagner. Airbus A380: Superjumbo of the 21st Century. Zenith Press, 2010.
You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube.