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Downsizing in the sky: The maker of the world's biggest passenger plane is betting on a small jet

Key Points
  • The Airbus deal with Bombardier pits it more closely against Boeing.
  • Airlines are looking for two-engine fuel-efficient planes.
  • The deal also would send Airbus into the smaller-jet market.
Airbus A380 performs an aerial demonstration over the Le Bourget Airport during the 52nd International Paris Air Show on June 22, 2017, in Paris, France.
Yuriko Nakao | Getty Images

The Airbus A380 is so large that airports all over the world had to build special gates to accommodate the plane, which stands nearly eight stories tall and has a more than 250-foot wingspan.

But the manufacturer of the double-decker jumbo jet is now making a high-profile bet on a plane less than half its size: the single-aisle, some 100-seat C Series Bombardier jet.

Airbus announced late Monday that it would take a majority stake in Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier's C Series jet program.

The Bombardier jets have been a thorn in the side of U.S. giant Boeing, which accused Bombardier of selling the planes to Delta Air Lines below the cost of production.

The U.S. Commerce Department sided with Boeing in the dispute and recommended a tariff of 300 percent on the C Series jets. Delta has repeatedly said it will not pay the tariffs and will take delivery of the planes. The airline plans to buy at least 75 of the aircraft.

The Bombardier planes haven't sold well, but Airbus at the helm of the C Series would more closely position the European company against archrival Boeing.

It also speaks to a trend that is gripping not just Airbus but Boeing: Smaller is better.

Airlines, including Delta and rival United, are ditching giant four-engine planes like the Boeing 747 in favor of more fuel-efficient models. Airlines are keen to save as much fuel as possible, even as fuel prices are still at historic lows.

Boeing makes the two-engine Dreamliner, a long-range plane, while Airbus sells the twin-engine A350. Delta on Tuesday is unveiling the interior cabins of the A350, which it's rolling out to replace its aged Boeing 747s.

The Airbus A380 — which is flown by Air France, Emirates and Singapore Airlines, among others — has been a tough sell for airlines as technology improves. It can seat more than 500 passengers, so it can be difficult to fill. Airbus recently suggested configuration changes, which include moving one of the double-decker aircraft's staircases to fit even more passengers inside.

Last month, Airbus delivered 40 narrow-body A320 planes, seven A330s, seven A350 wide-body planes and only one A380.

WATCH: Delta CEO: Bombardier innovation, not price, is what attracted us

Delta CEO: Bombardier innovation, not price is what attracted us