Actually, the A380 is not selling at all. The recent orders from Emirates are on hold because Rolls-Royce cannot deliver engines that beat the fuel efficiency of the GP-7200. Emirates’ patience for lack of A380 sales to other airlines is wearing thin because it means that thick routes are already saturated with airplanes. In other words, there is no aftermarket for the number of early, heavier A380’s that Emirates would like to replace. Emirates operates 150 777’s and 100 A380’s. In other words the A380’s big fan is not happy.
The passenger version of the Boeing 747 is not selling either. The freighter version lives on because, from the outset, the 747 was designed for the secondary life. The nose of the airplane goes up in front of the upper-deck cockpit, and the single large deck is perfect for loading.
You cannot take the upper deck floor out of the A380 because the structure is integral to lateral strength. Besides, for really large and unusual freight, you can hire the Antonov 124 or Antonov 225 in a real pinch.
The big picture, however, is about the demise of Hub and Spoke operations. That is where passengers fly to the big airplane on several small airplanes, ride the big airplane across the ocean, and then fly other small airplanes to the final destination on three legs.
Point to Point is where you drive to the airport, take one flight to your destination on a twin (757, 797, 767, A330, 787, A350 or 777: the right size for a profitable job). Is it any surprise that Emirates is going the other way, adding the 787 to its fleet?
EXCEPT FOR THE MINORITY OF ROUTES WHERE YOU CAN FILL A JUMBO, FOUR ENGINES ARE OUT! Emirates complaint about fuel burn is strong evidence that the difficulty maintaining load factors on the A380 causes financial pain. There is no way to right size an A380.
(In my opinion, the 777 is the airplane that killed them both, nearly 1600 of them so far. Efficiency wins.)
Retired aircraft designer comments-
One is a jumbo and the other is super-jumbo, not exactly having the same design specification. A380 is more than 40% heavier than B747 and capable of carrying over 40% more. This separates the market arena to make profitable operation. There are only few high density, long distance city-pairs routes available for A380 to operate profitable, hence the market is smaller.
A simplistic answer can be extrapolated from the counter question ‘Why is Boeing 747 not selling well while Boeing 737 is popular?’ Given below is the statistic that speaks for itself.
B747 entered into service in 1970 and have a total order of about 1570 as of 2018, of which about 1490 order was before A380 entered into the market in 2007. Since then A380 has more than 330 orders, while in the same period B747 has about 80 orders.
With advent of modern B787 and A350, offering better profitability, both the A380 and the B747 will suffer in sales. Boeing has recovered their investment but Airbus will possibly need another 100 aircraft sales to break-even the investment. Boeing can safely close B747 production if they wish but Airbus will have to think about it, fortunately orders are trickling in to keep production line alive.
The same thing happened to the 747 but since the development and tooling was paid for decades ago Boeing isn’t worried about only building 10 or so 747’s a year.
Side note if the 380 does die out we could see a revitalization of the 747 since it would be the only option for those super crowded routes.