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TOULOUSENearly 16 years after the world's largest passenger airliner first took to the skies, the last ever Airbus A380 superjumbo has completed its first flight.



On March 17, the final A380 to be assembled took off from Airbus' Jean-Luc Lagardere plant, a purpose-built facility at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in southern France.

Its destination on this test flight was the Airbus manufacturing plant at Hamburg-Finkenwerder Airport in Germany. This is where the cabin will be fitted out and the aircraft painted. It will be wearing the livery of the customer airline, Emirates.

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 a 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.

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 two 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 has 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, A380s will be in our skies for a while yet. The MSN 272 is one of five brand-new planes still scheduled for delivery to Emirates, the jet's biggest customer.

The airline's president Tim Clark recently reconfirmed at a CAPA Live conference that it intends to be flying its fleet of A380s -- of which there are currently around 120 -- until the mid-2030s.

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