It is the biggest passenger aircraft in the skies, and it will continue to operate for some time to come. But the A380 will not be as prevalent as it once was. It may be a passenger favorite, but the A380 has proven a tough aircraft for most airlines to operate profitably. And this week brought more tough news for the type.
Emirates looks to trim another five
First up was news that Emirates is keen to scratch its final five deliveries of the type from Airbus. The carrier had previously renegotiated down the overall fleet size but these last few are already under construction in Toulouse. Another three pending deliveries are in Hamburg receiving their interiors and are still expected to join the fleet, albeit without the new premium economy cabin hoped for.
Airbus does not have many options in terms of dealing with the partially assembled aircraft. There is no market for alternate customers, especially as the total number parked by other carriers continues to grow. Completing the builds in hopes that Emirates changes its mind and accepts them is also unlikely to play out well for Airbus.
After all, Emirates is also parking some of the planes it already owns. Official confirmation remains elusive, but the carrier is believed to be planning for 46 of its existing A380s to be moved either to long term storage or outright retired as a result of COVID19-induced fleet cuts. That move comes as President Sir Tim Clark recently declared, “The A380 is over.”
The carrier currently has its its entire A380 operation grounded.
Air France ceases A380 operations
The type was not long for this world with Air France. The carrier retired its first A380 late in 2019 and planned for the rest to leave the fleet by the end of 2022. That timetable accelerated on Wednesday, with the carrier declaring a “definitive cessation of operation” for the fleet.
The decision is part of a broader fleet simplification strategy “which aims to make it more competitive, by continuing its transformation with more modern, more efficient aircraft with a considerably reduced environmental footprint.” The carrier will replace the A380 with A350 and 787 aircraft already on order.
As a result of the move Air France will take a 500 million euro charge to account for the early retirement of the nine aircraft.
Other carriers making similar moves
Around the globe similar stories are unfolding for other airlines. Among them:
- Qatar Airways does not expect its 10 A380s to return to service before H2 2021, if at all. The aircraft were previously scheduled for retirement starting in 2024. And if demand does not return the type could be replaced with the carrier’s significant backlog of new aircraft deliveries from Boeing and Airbus.
- Lufthansa had already moved seven of its fifteen A380s to long-term storage. At this point it is believed only seven would return, based at the carrier’s Munich hub. And that would only happen if demand bounces back more quickly than anticipated.
- Qantas will, at least initially, only return its already retrofit subfleet of A380s to service. Three of the aircraft have the new interiors while another three were undergoing renovations when the pandemic hit. The other half are buttoned up for long-term storage now, with return timing unclear.
For many other airlines the future of the type remains similarly unclear. Malaysia Airlines has tried to retire or sell its A380s in the past, only to bring them back into service for Umrah or other high-capacity charter needs. But it is clear the A380 will not last long there. Financial and operational restructurings at Malaysia and Thai Airways could see the type finally retired for good. Or not. The government backing at both makes it hard to tell what will really happen going forward.
Korean Airlines and Asiana may similarly choose to retire the type out as they restructure their operations. ANA picked up a trio for Hawaii service (and to secure the Haneda slots from Skymark). Their future remains unclear, though the planes are less than a year old. The third has not yet even been delivered.