The British Airways A380 fleet should be in tip-top shape for flying through at least 2027. The carrier signed a contract extension with Lufthansa Technik (LHT) that calls for the planes to be maintained at LHT’s Manila base.
Optimists might look at the deal as a sign the dozen planes are all coming back as the market recovers. But that appears to be reading too much into the news, at least for now.
British Airways operated the long-haul A380 inaugural in September 2013, following a bit of time for proving runs on shorter hops around Europe. Factor in a bit of buffer for delivery timing and such and the maintenance term starts to look an awful lot like the leasing term.
Which is not to say that the company necessarily wants to be making lease payments while not using the aircraft to move passengers about. But the cost to bring them back into service might not be worthwhile, depending on what the traffic recovery looks like. And given current UK travel policies a strong rebound is unlikely in the immediate future.
Sources suggest that the contract renewal is more about remaining in compliance with leasing obligations than seeing all the planes return to passenger service.
Costs to bring back the British Airways A380
Beyond the typical costs to exit a plane from long-term storage, British Airways also faces two other, potentially significant, expense challenges with the super jumbo coming back online.
With cabins nearly a decade old at this point. a refresh might be necessary to remain competitive. The in-flight entertainment system launched with capacity for 125 movies on board, for example. That’s paltry in comparison to modern long-haul aircraft.
Similarly, the Club World business class cabin is at least a generation old in design, and it was hardly top-of-the-line when the aircraft entered service. British Airways might not be keen to retrofit the planes with the new Club Suites business class design, but some sort of refresh is likely needed for the planes to remain in service too much longer.
Keeping the fleet active also requires a dedicated group of pilots certified on the type. When British Airways informed its 747 pilots that recurrent training was cancelled in June 2020 that was a major hint that the fleet retirement was not far off. The company did not go that far yet with its A380 fleet, but roster needs are shifting.
The latest moves will see several dozen pilot crews shifted to the A350 rather than waiting longer for the A380 to return to service. The company can always move pilots back over or hire new to boost the operations. But trimming the active crew numbers is rarely an optimistic indicator.
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