Developed as a direct competitor to the hugely successful Boeing 747 line, Airbus introduced their wide-body, long-range jet airline A380 series on October 25th, 2007. Origins of the aircraft lay in the early 1990s and came to fruition in June of 1994 under the project "A3XX" designation. The program then underwent various design studies before receiving the official company go-ahead in December of 2000 with the aircraft now carrying the official "A380" designation. The design was refined by 2001 with components already being worked on in early 2002. At its core, the aircraft is an international passenger/freight hauler marketed for long distance routes and under a technology-laden, fuel efficient approach when compared to the massive, 1960s-era Boeing 747 series.
The A380 netted several launch customers before the first aircraft had even flown. Production began in 2004 to which a prototype was first unveiled at Toulouse, France on January 18th, 2005. It received its first flight some months later on April 27th, 2005. The manufacturing of the aircraft consisted of a multinational logistics path that included the nations of Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and, of course, the home country of France. A total of five airframes were reserved for evaluation service and certification for the product was then achieved in December of 2006.
By this point, development costs had appropriately ballooned and production faced delays of several months which then evolved into years. The line was formally introduced with launch customer Singapore Airlines on October 25th, 2007 (as "AQ380") though delays continued into 2008. Emirates then followed as a customer in August of 2008. The 100th aircraft of the family was delivered to Malaysia Airlines on March 14th, 2013 and, to date (January 2014), some 119 A380s have been completed with production ongoing as of this writing. The complete list of operators to date includes Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, Air France, Lufthansa, Korean Air, China Southern Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways International and British Airways.
The cockpit of the A380 utilizes dual controls for both pilots and an all-glass approach with five large, full-color multi-function displays (MFDs). Throttle controls are managed at the center console and each pilot is given side-stick controller input mimicking the configuration of a modern military fighter aircraft. The passenger section includes a two-story approach (with belly cargo level) which promotes a very deep fuselage for the aircraft when viewed externally in profile. In a three-class configuration, the A380 can haul some 555 passengers and as many as 850 in a single-class configuration.
Overall length of the airframe is equal to 239 feet with a wingspan reaching out to 262 feet and height of 80 feet. The A380 weighs in at 610,000lb and features a maximum take-off weight of 1.3 million pounds fully loaded (freighter model). Power is served through an Engine Alliance GP7270 (70,000lb thrust), Rolls-Royce Trent 970-972/B (70,000-72,000lb thrust) or Engine Alliance GP7277 (76,000lb thrust) and Rolls-Royce Trent 977/B (76,000lb thrust) turbofan engines (passenger and freighter models respectively). Maximum speed is 630 miles per hour with a cruise speed of 590 miles per hour being reported and service range is out to 9,750 miles (6,400 for freighter model). The aircraft can reach a service ceiling of 43,100 feet.
To date (January 2014), the A380 series has not been involved in any fatal crashes. A November 2010 flight from Singapore to Sidney was forced to return following an engine failure though no casualties or injuries were reported in the incident. The Rolls-Royce engines in play were then reviewed and an oil leak was found which forced other Trent engines to be reviewed and repaired. Further review unveiled cracks in the wing which forced further assessment of all active A380s.
The A380-800 is expected to be revised through an improvement initiative announced in 2010. This will result in an increased maximum take-off weight and operational range. This should become the next standardized passenger model available. The A380-900 is an enlarged variant (though since officially delayed) with more passenger seating (up to 650 in a standard configuration). The A380F represents the freighter model variant though early orders were retracted by customers due to delays and Airbus has currently shelved the model for the near future.