TOULOUSE, France — Since a solo flight by the Wright brothers on the shore of North Carolina more than a century ago, the size of airplanes has gone in one direction — up. But the era of ever larger jets, and the romantic idea of continent-hopping travel they inspired, came to an unofficial end with the announcement by Airbus on Thursday that it plans to cease production of the A380, the largest passenger airliner ever built.
An engineering marvel expansive enough for showers and sleekly designed bars, the planes hark back to the age when flying had glamour. The four engines are powerful enough to reach cruising altitude in roughly 15 minutes, all the while keeping noise to a tolerable hum.
But for years, the jet has been far more popular with passengers than airlines. When it debuted in 2005, the A380 was a bet that the future of air travel was big planes flying between major hubs, followed by connectors to final destinations.
Instead, the dominant trend became smaller planes and direct flights. Dropping $445 million for a jet — the A380’s list price — that can carry more than 500 people made little economic sense, especially as budget airlines cropped up as competition.
Airbus, which is based in Toulouse, struggled to market the A380 for years and never sold one to an American carrier. Citing reduced orders from Emirates Airline, a major customer, and an inability to find other buyers, the company said it would halt deliveries of the jetliner in 2021. (It will continue to support existing A380s.)
“As a result of this decision we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years,” the company’s chief executive, Tom Enders, said in a statement.
The decision to cease production of the A380 will prompt job cuts at Airbus, potentially affecting as many as 3,500 of its 134,000 employees over the next three years.