Emirates vs Qatar Airways in Airbus A380 superjumbo stoush

These two powerhouse airlines have different views on the future role the Airbus A380.

By David Flynn, July 17 2020
Emirates vs Qatar Airways in Airbus A380 superjumbo stoush

To fly, or not to fly? That, it seems, is the question surrounding the A380, and two powerhouse Gulf airlines have very different answers.

This week saw Emirates send a handful of Airbus A380s back into the skies, following long months during which all 115 of its superjumbos were grounded.

The A380s – known for their first class suites, private showers and walk-up cocktail bars – departed Dubai for London and Paris, with Emirates also announcing a second daily superjumbo for London and a daily A380 for Amsterdam as of August 1.

In a celebratory press release, Emirates’ Chief Operating Officer Adel Al Redha said "we are delighted to bring (the A380) back into the skies to serve our customers on flights to London and Paris from 15 July, and we are looking forward to gradually introduce our A380 into more destinations according to the travel demand on specific destinations."

Barely one hour away across the Persian Gulf, arch-rival Qatar Airways responded by highlighting its decision not to fly the A380, choosing instead of keep its superjumbos grounded for the foreseeable future – a future in which they may never return at all – in favour of the modern mid-sized Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.

"As we rebuild our network, passengers can rely on us to operate an honest schedule of flights to take them where they want to go, using the right size aircraft to offer sensible capacity on each route," noted Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Akbar Al Baker. "As a result, we will not resume flying our fleet of A380 until demand returns to appropriate levels."

Qatar talks up its mixed, modern fleet

While Emirates built its world-conquering fleet around two of the largest long-range jets – the 517-seat Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777, with typically 360 seats – Qatar Airways played a broader hand which includes the 254-seat Boeing 787-8, the 283-seat Airbus A350-900 and the 327-seat Airbus A350-1000.

And it's those jets, not Qatar's ten Airbus A380s or even the Boeing 777s, which are line to become the airline's international workhorses.

The 49 A350 models will be "the aircraft of choice for the most strategically important long-haul routes to the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions" while the 30 Boeing 787s – and its first Boeing 787-9s, taking wing in early 2021 with an all-new business class – will "offer the right capacity on routes in Europe while markets recover."

While nodding to the obvious commercial reasons for his A380s to stay sleeping, Al Baker also played the green card, noting that on most one-way flights the A380 emitted between 80-95% "more CO2 per block hour than the A350", with the A350 saving between 16-20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per block hour compared to the A380.

"We take our responsibilities to care for the environment seriously and sustainability is at the forefront of our business planning across the group," Al Baker expanded. "This is why we have an average fleet age of less than five years, one of the youngest in the world."

As previously reported, this includes phasing out its entire Boeing 777-300ER and 777-200LR fleet by 2024 in favour of new Boeing 777X jets as part of a ‘green modernisation’ push which will also see the last Airbus A380 scuppered by 2028.

“We are very conscious about our emissions and we are very keen to keep on introducing fuel-efficient aeroplanes,” Al Baker told Executive Traveller“We are retiring the entire (Airbus) A330 fleet now, we are retiring all the 777s over the next three to four years, we are retiring the A320 aeroplanes.”

Al Baker also said that the new-for-old swap would see its Boeing 787-9s eventually “replace the 787-8s”, although this is tied to a delayed delivery of the factory-fresh Dreamliners from at least 2022. “We plan to to reduce our emissions and have carbon-neutral growth over a period of time.”

Read more: Qatar to retire all Boeing 777-300ERs "over the next 3-4 years"

Emirates: all A380s flying by mid-2022

For its part, Emirates aims to have all its superjumbos soaring once again by April 2022.

“The A380 has defined us,” says Emirates President Sir Tim Clark. “As demand returns, and given the slot availability at prime hubs, there will be a place for it. I’m hoping by April 2022, all our A380s will be flying again.”

While that could be seen as somewhat optimistic, given that the International Air Transport Association reported last week that it predicts global demand for air travel may not return to 2019 levels until 2023, it also represents Emirates President Sir Tim Clark’s confidence in the shape of the recovery curve.

Emirates hopes to not only ride but in some ways fuel the post-pandemic travel wave, with increased appeal for its lower-cost ‘basic business class’ package – which provides the personal space of a business class seat without inclusions such as a chauffeur drive, lounge access or advance seat selection – because people will be prepared to pay more for greater distancing” on board.

Similar changes in thinking could also prove an added kickstart to Emirates’ all-new premium economy cabin, which Clark has described as a railway-style “sleeperette” design that will fully cradle the legs and feet, with a 10-inch recline and around 38 inches of pitch and has already been fitted to some A380s at Airbus' superjumbo facility in Toulouse.

Clark has previously told Executive Traveller that on Airbus A380s fitted with first class, the premium economy cabin will be located at the front of the lower deck with “as many as 56 seats.”

It will also be separate to economy class in order to provide “a degree of exclusivity... and not just a curtain, it'll be a proper cabin. We're aiming to make it a quiet zone, a comfortable zone.”

Also read: Emirates says Boeing 777X to miss 2021 debut, deliveries pushed to 2022


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

07 Mar 2017

Total posts 59

"Al Baker also played the green card, noting that on a most one-way flights the A380 emitted between 80-95% "more CO2 per block hour than the A350""

Tired of these simplistic statements designed to mislead (though he is known for exaggeration). The above is also because the A380 also carries 83% more passengers than the A350!

So the only question is one of utilisation. Of course you choose the right aircraft for the size of your market. If you use something inefficiently, of course the outcome will also be inefficient. Yet statements above are designed to mislead as if there's more to it, or it is being done for some altruistic purpose (in which case why have them in their fleet?), when it's just simple economics.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 168

Respectfully, having spent enough years in the Middle East building a business, I don't think the commitment to 'being green' is reflected in the lifestyle pursued. No one does it that hard without Air-Con or a V8.

17 Jul 2020

Total posts 1

Airlines should expend their energy in investigating and informing us (passengers) about the safety of these aircraft models they are respectively opting for. For instance, other than environmental and comfort considerations, what are the safety records of each model, coz best believe me, the average flier is now concerned about safety following the Max tragedies.

Qatar Airways, for instance, should assure us that the 777X they will be introducing in their fleet is as safe as the 777-300ER or 777-200LR were, if not safer, and should outline publicly how they are monitoring and assessing the current developments at Boeing pertaining to the testing and certification of this somewhat contentious model. You'll recall that a BA.N employee recently told Congress that both the Max and the 777X have flawed design issues, and that should not be taken lightly.

Safety, safety, safety. That's not too much to ask for.

actually the public in most part, have completely forgotten about the max crashes. Only the media beating it up will remind them & only a very small % will care.

If you're flying to eg. fiji on a 737, will many even bother to find out which version of a 737 they are booked on ? I'd say no. The 737 max story is done & dusted I think.

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1245

Al Baker really is the master of spin.


03 May 2013

Total posts 671

He's the 'Trump' of the aviation world. Achieved some great things but loopy and loose mouthed as they come.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2017

Total posts 33

Qatar and Emirates are 2 very worthy carriers... so on long-haul from Australia, I want comfort and space. I feel more comfortable in an A380 than the smaller planes, which feel cramped to me. Space is a very important feeling that long-haul passengers appreciate, and is much more relaxing over long periods of time in the air. For this reason I will go with Emirates. From the middle-east to Europe, a smaller plane may be OK, but not on serious long-haul. That is how I feel personally. I don't care about the fuel efficiency or greenhouse gases or any other thing airlines talk about. For my once in a year long-haul flight, I want comfort and space. If Qatar decide not to use A380's, than that are not wanting my business. Sorry Qatar, but you have kicked yourself in the foot, by not using the A380's, which is what long-haul passengers much prefer. I am already missing the 747's no longer being around. This trend to smaller planes... I hate it.

07 May 2020

Total posts 4

Sadly, due to Covid-19 issues, we will not be undertaking our annual winter migration from Australia to the northern hemisphere. Long haul travel is so much better when travelling in the comfort and space afforded by the A380. Whilst we have previously considered Qatar, the fact that they are effectively mothballing their A380's simply reinforces our decision to stay with Emirates. My own experience and talking with other travellers is that the A380 is hugely popular (and profitable) on the Oz-London route. I feel that Emirates would be taking a big gamble to prematurely retire the A380

why wouldn't you go to EU in DEC-JAN ?

When you have 115 x A380s they won't be retired anytime soon.

when an airline has 115 A380s of course they are going to fly. Maybe they'll even introduce a lower class, with severe weight restrictions, buy a long way in advance maybe, no or expensive changes, no upgrades etc. similar to basic fares in USA (they have to fill those aircraft somehow)

Do arab states that produce oil, mean their airlines get cheap fuel ?

If so, aircraft might depart DXB with maximum fuel load everytime, if they don't already.

I wonder if the new A380 now with PE seats will have their F suites upgrade also as in the 777?

Having used Emirates for years for my Kuwait to Australia trips, I recently changed to Qatar because they were the only carrier still flying the route (May 2020). The Emirates A380 had a nice "vibe" in Business but I always felt the bar at the tail end was a bit of a wank to be honest. Emirates lost me for good when they down-graded my status of their loyalty programme during the COVID crisis. Qatar Airlines, in comparison, has guaranteed status for twelve months. I think I know which airline has shown a commitment to its customers in difficult times, and that is when to judge them. Emirates failed the "pub" test; Qatar passed it with flying colours (pardon the pun).

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