Your cultural guide to the 2023 Tour de France Femmes: stage 6

In today's episode, a look at the famous (but now discontinued) Airbus A380.

Image: Julian Herzog/Wikimedia Commons

For every stage of the 2023 Tour de France – men’s and women’s – José Been is bringing you stories about the history, castles, geology, culture, food, and people around the race. A bit of couleur locale while you enjoy lush fields of sunflowers, beautiful mountains, and pretty little villages, oh, and the bike race too.

We are racing to Blagnac today, which is just outside the city of Toulouse. Toulouse is the home of Airbus. This company has been located in France since 1970, initially as a consortium of French and German aerospace manufacturers. Later the Spanish and the British joined as well. It’s the second-largest airplane manufacturer, after Boeing.  

One of Airbus’s most famous airplanes is the Airbus A380 that was introduced in 2007. The minimum seating plan is for 379 passengers but there is potentially room for more than 800. The A380 seemed like a big success. Middle Eastern airline giants like Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad, but also Lufthansa, British Airways, and Qantas bought the double-decker super jet. The Middle Eastern airlines, especially, used the space on board for crazy-big suites and super-deluxe first- and business-class seating arrangements. Etihad even has a version with a three-room apartment in the sky, called the Residence (not to be confused with the more pedestrian first-class Apartments, at only 39 square feet). There is a bar, luxurious toilets, even showers and a personal chef.

But what was once deemed the future of air travel quickly became a black sheep. When the A380 finally went into service after a very long run-up in 2008, the global financial crisis led to a collapse in demand for big aircraft.

During the COVID-19 pandemic especially, these big super planes remained grounded. Air France said goodbye to its 10 A380s, of which they owned five and leased five. The A380s are expensive to fly because of the four thirsty engines that made them uneconomical for most operators long ago.

In 2019 Airbus decided to discontinue the A380. The company had experienced a dramatic drop in orders, and when even its biggest customer, Emirates (which has around 120 of them) wasn’t interested anymore, it was the end.

“I know the passengers love it, it’s a very quiet and smart airplane, but the damage it does to the environment should be priority and not the comfort,” the CEO of Qatar Airways even said.

The last Airbus A380 was delivered at the end of 2021. The A350 and the Boeing 787 are seen as its successors. They are much more fuel-efficient long-haul carriers. As it stands now it is expected that A380s will stay around for around 10-15 years more. 

You can book a tour around the Airbus factory and the huge terrain around it but judging from the reviews on Tripadvisor I think a trip to La Ville Rose or Toulouse is a better idea. Funnily enough it was the color blue that made the city famous. Trade in pastel, a yellow-flowering plant that yields a blue dye, made the merchants rich. The name ‘Ville Rose’ or Pink City is derived from the pink bricks that come from the clay from the Garonne river.

We focus not on the pink but on the yellow jersey today, so let’s go!

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