The Airbus A380 superjumbo holds a special place in many aviation fans’ hearts – and when the last of its kind made its final test flight, it returned that love with a message in the sky.
The world’s largest passenger airliner made its last pre-delivery flight on December 13, taking off from Airbus’ facility at Hamburg-Finkenwerder Airport for a tour over northeast Germany.
The pilots took a very special route, marking out the outline of a heart, which was picked up by flight-tracking service FlightRadar24.
The craft, registered as MSN 272, has been in Hamburg since March, which is its base for final tests as well as cabin fit-out and painting of livery.
It’s scheduled for delivery this month to Emirates, the jet’s biggest customer.
The Airbus A380 was developed at a cost of $25 billion and, with a capacity of up to 853 passengers, it’s the largest mass-produced civil airliner in history.
The superjumbo’s first delivery was to Singapore Airlines in 2007, and since then close to 250 A380s have rolled off the line in Toulouse.
It’s now nearly three years since Airbus announced that it would be discontinuing the airplane.
“It’s a painful decision,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders said in February 2019. “We’ve invested a lot of effort, a lot of resources and a lot of sweat into this aircraft.”
Airbus overestimated airlines’ appetite for the superjumbo. By the time of the 2019 announcement, it had delivered just 234 of the craft – less than half of the 600 it had predicted when the double-decker was introduced.
Airlines’ interest had shifted to lighter, more fuel-efficient craft and the pandemic hastened the planes’ demise even further.
Airlines including Lufthansa, Qantas and Air France grounded their superjumbo last year, at a time when the sharp drop in demand for air travel meant many planes were flying close to empty.
However, as aviation has begun its slow recovery, airlines including Singapore Airlines and British Airways have returned their superjumbos to service, so A380s will be in our skies for a while yet.
Putting together an A380 is a gargantuan task, with 1,500 companies involved in manufacturing all the individual parts, from rivets to bolts, to seats and engines. Four million individual parts needed to be flown, driven and shipped from 30 different countries.
The last convoy to the Final Assembly Line (FAL) took place in February 2020, with hundreds turning out in the French village of Levignac to see the wings, fuselage sections and horizontal tailplane transported by truck – just a month before the pandemic made mass gatherings impossible.
Fuselage sections came from Hamburg, Germany, and Saint-Nazaire, France; the horizontal tailplane was manufactured in Cadiz, Spain; and the vertical tail fin was also made in Hamburg.
Howard Slutsken contributed to this report.