The Airbus A380 is a new wide-body jet airliner, which is currently the largest passenger jet in service in the world. It is produced in Europe by Airbus, and has been in commercial service since late 2007.
The A380 was in development since the 1980s, when Airbus decided it needed something to counter Boeing’s immensely successful 747 jet. Research and development cost billions of euros, eventually leading to a plane which is assembled from parts produced in Britain, Spain, Germany, and France. It is truly massive, carrying between 555 and 853 passengers (depending on whether the plane is divided into classes, or all seats are economy-class), split between a main deck and an upper deck. It is 240 feet long, with a wingspan of 260 feet, making it larger than a Boeing 747 but smaller than the largest aircraft in operation, the Russian-built Antonov An-225 Mriya (of which only one exists).
The plane can lumber off the ground with a maximum takeoff weight of 1.3 million pounds. Once in the air, its 82,000 gallons of fuel will carry it 5600 nautical miles, flying at up to 43,000 feet at a maximum speed of 630 miles per hour. Thrust is provided by four Rolls Royce Trent or Engine Alliance GP7000 turbofan jet engines.
Thus far, the A380’s market penetration has been limited (but, of course, growing). The jet has a hefty price tag, of almost $350 million, and so far only 56 have been built. As of November 2010, there are 234 orders for Airbus A380s, but just 39 have been delivered. The largest two operators are Emirates Airlines of the United Arab Emirates, with 14, and Singapore Airlines, with 11. Smaller numbers are in service with Air France, Qantas (Australia), and Lufthansa (Germany). Eventually Emirates currently plans to operate up to 90 of the massive aircraft, or about one-third of all ordered aircraft. However, Airbus is also processing orders from Austria, China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Qatar, and Thailand. Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia has also ordered an Airbus A380; when it arrives, it will be the largest private jet in the world.
So far there have been no crashes or deaths involving the Airbus A380. However, in November 2010, a flight from Singapore to Sydney by Australian airline Qantas experienced an engine failure and fire. That flight was able to return to Singapore and land without any injuries onboard. The Qantas A380 fleet was temporarily grounded pending an investigation of what happened and how to prevent a recurrence.