Will There Ever Be An Airbus A390?

In 2015, American manufacturer Boeing began researching a concept airliner for the middle market known as the 797. Following this numerical trend across to Boeing’s European counterpart, what are the chances that Airbus will ever manufacture an A390?

A350
The A350 was the last widebody airliner launched by Airbus. What will be the next? Photo: Getty Images

The airline industry is currently somewhat stagnant as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, research and development among aircraft manufacturers has continued. As such, we may yet see Airbus launch a brand new model at some point in the future. The logical, numerical progression for its name would be the A390. The names A360 and A370 also remain vacant. However, the bigger questions concern what the aircraft would entail and when it would be launched.

Bigger Than An A380?

Following the huge success of the B747, Airbus launched its own double-deck competitor with the A380. The ‘superjumbo’ is undoubtedly a marvel of engineering. Its sheer size always turns heads among both avgeeks and the general public wherever it flies.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the same story for the Airbus sales team. The aircraft fills a very niche market, flying lots of people on high-density long-haul routes. Since its launch in 2007, it has become increasingly obsolete in the current commercial market, and, in February 2019, Airbus officially canceled its production.

Lufthansa, Freighter, Airbus A380
The Airbus A380 has not enjoyed anywhere near the levels of commercial success seen by the Boeing 747 with which it was designed to compete. Photo: Getty Images

The drop in passenger demand seen this year due to COVID-19 also hit the type hard. Air France, for example, responded by retiring its remaining A380s earlier in the year. The last couple of years have certainly represented a worrying turn of events for an aircraft that took its first commercial flight just 13 years ago and was designed with a life of at least 40 years in mind.

However, with passenger numbers expected to double by 2036, there could be an ever-increasing need for a large aircraft like the A380 or a potential A390. However, why would this be the solution, rather than operating more flights using smaller aircraft?

Singapore Airlines launched the Airbus A380 commercially in October 2007. Getty Images

While passenger numbers are growing massively, this growth is not generally reflected in the growth of airports worldwide. London Heathrow is a prime example of this conundrum. The British capital’s largest airport was already operating at capacity before the pandemic hit. Furthermore, little progress was being made on its proposed expansion in the form of a third runway.

It is important to consider that coronavirus has had a significant impact on passenger numbers, and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, if the aforementioned growth trends return in years to come, we could see a greater demand for super-sized aircraft.

Heathrow runway queue
Before the pandemic, queues such as this were a frequent sight on Heathrow’s taxiways. The proposed third runway would look to ease some of this congestion. Photo: Getty Images

What Does This Mean?

This means that, if Airbus was to build an A390 aircraft, it would almost certainly not be a double-deck aircraft, following the minimal success of its A380 program. Instead, it is more likely that the company will invest its time and money into making the aircraft more fuel-efficient than current aircraft. At the same time, it will be trying to increase the range, while not decreasing the useful payload.

In fact, Airbus is currently in the process of testing a completely new wing design called ‘BLADE.’ BLADE stands for Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe.” Using the principle of ‘laminar flow,’ this design aims to cut inflight fuel burn by around 5% by reducing the wingtip’s friction. The wing is fitted to an A340-300 testbed, known by the company as the ‘Flight Lab.’

Airbus A340
The A340 is one of Airbus’s older models still in service today. Nonetheless, the European manufacturer is utilizing it to help develop a more efficient wing design for its future aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Conclusion

While there will almost certainly be a new Airbus aircraft one day, nobody knows when this will be, or what it will be called. The company currently has its hands full with the production and delivery of its latest models, the A220 and A350.

Over the next few years, it is likely that Airbus will focus on boosting the A350 program. While Boeing has put its proposed 797 on hold, Airbus may yet find one day that it has a new aircraft to compete with. Only time will tell.

What are your thoughts? Let us know what you think in the comment section.


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