Airbus and Boeing are two big names in the aerospace industry, making up almost 99% of global heavy aircraft orders. Both aircraft manufacturers have been battling one another for decades and making directly competing products. In 2015, Boeing developed a new midsize airplane (NMA) concept to serve the airline market between narrowbody and widebody aircraft. Dubbed ‘797’, this Boeing project conceptualized filling the gap between the 737 Max and the 787 Dreamliner. Following the news of 797’s potential launch, there was widespread speculation regarding Airbus’s brand-new competing model. The hypothetical Airbus project would add to the European manufacturer’s A3x0 series and be called ‘A390’. Will there be an Airbus A390 in the future?
The concept of the Airbus A390
The European manufacturer Airbus is well-regarded for producing the ubiquitous A3x0 series of aircraft. The most notable airliners in this series include Airbus A300, A310, A320 family, A330, A350, and A380. Over the years, new Airbus products have evolved to suffice airlines’ ever-expanding global network. The European giant will undoubtedly debut a new jetliner project to outshine its rival Boeing and gain more market share. With A380 already out of the production line, the logical, numerical progression for the future model is A390.
When the news of the probable A390 model first hit the internet, it was rumored to be a 3-decker jet. There was an outpouring of opinions among aviation enthusiasts regarding the Airbus A390 project. Many speculated that the latest Airbus jet would be the largest passenger jumbo jet and have a fuel range of 7500 miles. It would carry over 800 passengers and come in two variants, A390-800 and A390-900.
However, the French airplane manufacturer hasn’t confirmed any news regarding the A390 design. Airbus is in no hurry to extend its remarkable series to fill the market gap. The alleged Airbus A390 launch will still be a long time coming as the current focus is on developing the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft.
Will there be an Airbus A390 in the future?
Airbus will introduce new aircraft to the market as the technology matures and air travel grows. The A3x0 series of airliners is the most prominent project of Airbus Company. As the company has already brought out A310, A320, A330, A350, and A380 programs, the remaining slots for the A300 series include A360, A370, and A390.
In light of the enormous success of the A300 series, it’s rational for Airbus to make a new addition to the 3×0 program. But whether to expand the ubiquitous A3x0 series or debut the future aircraft under a new designation is in the hands of the European giant.
What will A390 be like if Airbus materializes the project plan?
If Airbus materializes the A390 project plan, what will the future A390 be like? Considering the air market and current economy, the Airbus A390 might be quite different from the mammoth model that has been forecasted. The previous speculations regarding A390’s double-decker widebody jumbo jet design are unlikely to turn into reality, at least not anytime soon.
If Airbus was to ever produce the Airbus A390, it wouldn’t be the behemoth double-decker jumbo that most people have come to expect. The commercial failure of the Airbus A380 program is testimony to that. Airbus A380 was certainly a technological marvel, but it was a financial disappointment for Airbus. Designed to be a staple long-haul aircraft, Airbus A380 couldn’t perform financially well. The airlines’ shift from a hub-to-spoke flying model to point-to-point, the need for fuel-efficient jets, and the staggering lack of demand expedited the demise of the Airbus A380. The coronavirus pandemic was the last straw for the giant jet as many airlines began to shelve the double-decker A380 due to a significant passenger downturn.
If Airbus rolls out A390 in the foreseeable future, it will almost certainly not equip the new aircraft with quad engines. With the rapid advancement in aircraft range and fuel efficiency, fuel-guzzling jets will have a little-to-no place in the future. The Airbus A380 was powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, making it less efficient than newer twin-engined aircraft. The high fuel consumption of the A380 didn’t make it commercially viable for airlines to continue using it.
Besides, A380 operators struggled to find suitable routes to fill the plane at a decent yield. The A380 was designed for more-crowded age, but the switch in the aviation world towards smaller, economic jets made the mammoth jet obsolete.
Will Airbus ever produce a large jumbo jet?
The Toulouse-based Airbus is still grappling with the A380 production costs. The full-length double-decker jet airliner took Airbus to the height of the financial crisis. The estimated development cost of the A380 program was $25 billion, but the company had to sell the product below production cost. With sales orders fading away and the manufacturer losing money on each A380, it was prudent to pull out the plug. Unlike the half-century run for the competing 747 product, Airbus shut down the A380 production after 17 years. Airbus started the production of the A380 in 2003 and sold over 250 units before shutting it down in 2021.
Airbus couldn’t even cover the A380 production cost, let alone the profitability. Having learned the lesson from A380 sales in a bitter way, Airbus won’t produce a large jumbo jet soon.
However, the airline industry is highly unpredictable. On the one hand, the airlines are often hit with hard-to-process shocks, and on the other hand, the demand for air travel continues to grow (excluding COVID years). In the case of consistent and robust growth in global passenger traffic, there will be a niche for large jumbo jets. So, if air demand continues on the same trajectory as it was before the COVID outbreak, Airbus might produce large jumbo jets upon sufficient airline orders.
Bottom Line: Will there be any Airbus A390 in the future?
Whether or not there will be any A390 in the future remains entirely dependent on the decision of Airbus Company. The debut of the A390 signifies the extension of Airbus’ pre-eminent A3x0 series and an opportunity to begin a new era of air travel. However, it is also possible that Airbus will introduce a completely new aircraft under a different program. Until now, the European giant hasn’t confirmed the development plans of the A390 or other remaining A300 series product lines.
Even if Airbus decides to build A390, the new product is extremely unlikely to be a double/triple-decker giant jet. Given the changing market scenario and economic fallout, Airbus almost certainly won’t take another risky proposition in the near term.
Future aircraft projects of Airbus
Airbus is on the road to redefining flying by equipping its upcoming aircraft with forward-looking aviation technologies. Some of Airbus’ future aircraft projects include:
Air travel is a significant contributor to planet-heating pollution. Amid mourning concerns over the climate crisis, airlines and aircraft manufacturers are taking steps to reduce CO2 emissions. As a leading global aircraft producer, Airbus is set to introduce the world’s first zero-emission commercial airliner by 2035.
The zero-emission aircraft will use hydrogen-combustion propulsion technology for engine power. It will feature two hybrid-hydrogen turboprop engines that will use light hydrogen to fuel combustion with oxygen. Airbus seeks to get a mature technological readiness level for such a propulsion system by 2025 and debut the ZEROe aircraft by 2035.
Another significant ongoing project of Airbus is BLADE (Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe) wing design. Currently undergoing testing in the A340 Flight lab, the design aims to minimize the wingtip’s friction by 50%. The wing friction reduction by half could result in a 5% cut in in-flight carbon dioxide emissions.
Airbus’ current product offerings
Airbus continues the rivalry with the production of A350s, which compete against Boeing’s large long-haul 787 and 777. Airbus A350 is a long-range, widebody jet airliner powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent XWB turbofan engines. Designed in response to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus started the production of the A350 in 2010. The jetliner made its maiden flight on 14 June 2013 and entered revenue service with Gulf carrier Qatar Airways on 15 Jan 2015.
The Airbus A350 has received favor from airlines as Airbus has delivered over 500 units so far. It comes in two variants-the A350-900 with a seating capacity between 300 and 350 passengers and the longer 350-410 seat A350-1000. The A350-900 aircraft has a fuel range of 8100nm, whereas the stretched A350-1000 takes passengers over 8700nm.
The other recent product of Airbus is a five-abreast narrowbody airliner A220. Fitted with two PW15000G turbofan engines, the aircraft carries 135 passengers over 3450 nautical miles. The twin-jet A220 made its maiden voyage in 2013 and entered revenue service in 2016 with Swiss International. Airbus built the A220 family to challenge the Boeing 737 Max-7 variant and complement the A319neo family. The aircraft is still in production, and as of November 2022, over 2500 A220 units have been built.