Future of Singapore Airlines' A380 in limbo as network, fleet reviewed

Singapore Airlines is preparing to right-size itself for the coming years, but will the superjumbo have a place in those plans?

By David Flynn, July 30 2020
Future of Singapore Airlines' A380 in limbo as network, fleet reviewed

The fate of Singapore Airlines' flagship Airbus A380s will be decided in the next three months following an extensive review of both the size and shape of the airline's network, and the jets needed to fly it.

After revealing a staggering $1bn loss in the April-June 2020 quarter, at a time when the airline's parent group SIA – which also comprises regional carrier SilkAir and low-cost operator Scoot – saw a 99.5% drop in passenger traffic due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the stage is set for an unsteady and drawn-out recovery.

Even by the end of March 2021, "the Group’s passenger capacity may reach less than half of its pre-Covid-19 levels," the airline said in a statement.

In an effort to right-size itself to suit the long years ahead, the company said "we are reviewing the potential shape and size of our network over the longer term given COVID-19 and its impact on our passenger traffic and revenue, which will provide better clarity on the fleet size and mix that the group will need."

Is there a water cannon farewell in store for some of Singapore Airlines' A380s?
Is there a water cannon farewell in store for some of Singapore Airlines' A380s?

Some of this will hinge on delaying the delivery of new aircraft "to reduce near-term cash outflows," the airline said. "We have reached an agreement with Airbus on some of these matters and discussions with Boeing are ongoing. This will help to moderate fleet growth in the near term."

Singapore Airlines is believed to have some 90 jets on order, compared to around 120 already in its fleet, with another 60 orders shared between SilkAir and Scoot

The subjects of those discussions will include the Airbus A320neo and A321neo, the Boeing 737 MAX, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Boeing 777-9: the later of which has already been pushed back until 2022 and is set to be the launchpad for Singapore Airlines' latest first class suites and business class seats.

Read more: Here's what five top airlines are planning for the Boeing 777X

But this still leaves a superjumbo-sized question mark hanging over the Airbus A380.

All 19 of the airline's double-decker juggernauts have been grounded since March, with 13 parked at Changi Airport while six – a mix of older and newer versions – now reside at the longer-term Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage facility in Alice Springs, where the arid climate and low humidity helps keep aircraft in top condition until they're ready to fly again.

Also read: How do you put a jumbo – and over 16,000 other aircraft – to sleep?

Singapore Airlines has already flagged that its fleet review "is likely to lead to a material impairment of the carrying values of older generation aircraft, particularly the A380 aircraft which would account for approximately $1 billion."

Singapore Airlines was the prestigious launch customer for the Airbus A380 in October 2007, and from December 2017 added a second tranche of newer A380s sporting upgraded first and business class designs.

Singapore Airlines' latest A380s sport six spacious first class suites.
Singapore Airlines' latest A380s sport six spacious first class suites.

However, Airbus is winding down production of the A380 - the final superjumbo is now being assembled, despite questions over if customer Emirates intends to even pick up the keys – and other airlines around the world have stood down the A380 as being simply too large a plane to fill with passengers at a time when few people are flying.

"The recovery trajectory in international air travel is slower than initially expected," Singapore Airlines admits.

"Industry experts have continued to revise downwards their projections for the recovery of global passenger traffic in the near term. Industry forecasts currently expect that it will take between two to four years for passenger traffic numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels."

Air France has already announced it will scrap its 10-strong A380 fleet, while Lufthansa will decommission six of 14 A380s.

Qantas has mothballed all 12 of its A380s until at least 2023, and warns that as few as half may return to the skies. Qatar Airways has stated that its A380s "will not return for at least a year, maybe never."

Emirates, however, remains bullish and says it hopes to have all of its 115 A380s flying again by early 2022.

"The A380 has defined us," Emirates President Sir Tim Clark says of the planned superjumbo surge. "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."

Also read: Flight of fancy? We reveal Singapore Airlines' unused Airbus A380 first class concepts

David

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.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 533

I have rebooked the A380 suites for next year, so if they aren't around in the future maybe it will be a redesign of business class. Last year was 163,000 points to Europe, this year it's 275,000 points so it appears Singapore are trying to make up lost ground.

American Airlines - AAdvantage

02 Jun 2019

Total posts 13

Singapore Airlines with no A380 makes no sense, it is so associated with them. Atleast flights to London, Zurich, Sydney, Melbourne and Frankfurt need the whale. Their A380 fleet will probably be smaller by retiring the older planes they don't need to retrofit. There is another 10 years of A380 at SIA unless fuel becomes expensive or there another economic depression.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 237

Zurich doesn't need the A380. It's good to have but it's a smaller market that is well served by the B777, B787 or A350. THAI never flew an A380 to Zurich and Thailand is a much more popular destination for Swiss travellers than Singapore ever will be. Singapore is simply corporate travel (mainly banking, finance and insurance) that can be replaced by Skype and Zoom anyway...other than that it was always only a transit destination - in this case for Swiss holidaymakers heading onto Phuket, Malaysia and Bali, some of which are not served by direct flights from Switzerland. An A350 or B787 will be just fine...even two daily flights (if demand comes back to pre 2020 levels) on a medium capacity twin engine jet like the aforementioned ones might make more sense than trying to fill up 471 seats on that market.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

Recalled the night SIA flew the first A380 into Australia at SYD, didn't know what was happening but saw a lot of people standing near the fence watching something as I was walking to the Formule 1 Sydney Airport for stopover night. Only when I was in the motel corridor upstairs I realise the fanfare was over a super jumbo ABT and other media outlet was raving about.

Amazing that within 13 years, this airplane, loved by most pax, is now considered a white elephant that most major airlines would prefer not to own if they can have that choice again, made worse by GFC, LCC, COVID-19 and fuel and other running costs. In most cases the reason why they still own them is that no one else wants to buy them, even at bargain prices.

As much as A380's strong association with SIA corporate image, the fact is the profits from running A380 just prior to COVID-19 is already not as good as the newer cost efficient airplanes, with difficulty in maintaining high occupancy rate in such a big plane (when there are already much competition in the main route these superjumbos are already plying), I serious doubt SIA will want to fly these monsters until we are anywhere close to 80% pax volume worldwide. By then these planes will be another 2-3 years older and costly to maintain sitting on the ground.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 237

I was on the world's first A380, a flight from Singapore to Sydney, that took off within one month of the first flight. Was a great feeling at the time but less than 13 years later this short-lived era is almost coming to an end.

31 Mar 2020

Total posts 13

This pandemic might have an up side, when searching for flights i always cringe at low cost airlines offering great fares only to be inflated by seat choice, meals, entertainment, pillows etc, bring back the joy of carefree flying, pay the price, all included, these low fare flights should all disappear, and soon.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 237

Then choose a different airline. A mainline carrier will offer the product and services you're looking for. That said, my fear is that in the name of "fighting corona virus" they're cutting all sorts of perks, which may turn them into low cost carriers as a result of cost cutting. Already we've seen lounge access restricted, meals on board cut especially on short-haul flights, no more magazines and so forth. If airlines don't bring all of these things back, then even airlines like SQ will become glorified flying buses.

Singapore Airlines team are always smart with strategies amid any travel trouble. Back in 2003 SARS, it was the first airline that put a stone in the travel water that splash the travel interest for travellers. For Covid19, they should take cost effective flexible and sustainable strategies to tide through the travel trouble to the other side. They may need to compare the cost of operating the popular welcomed A380 compare to other fleets. If the operational cost permit, A380 will allow more flexibilities amid Covid19 while preparing post Covid19 recovery. 1. Keeping the excellent First class service which will still be in demand 2. allow better social distancing with more seating in economy class 3. keep the minimum number of consistent frequency per day or per week. The survival of Covid19 by the airline industry will lead the world travel and the world economy to bounce back quicker.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 237

2003 was nothing compared to now. Some temporary drop in travel demand to mainland China, Hong Kong and Toronto, Canada but it quickly rebounded. It happened about a month or two after I returned from Asia and I was back in Asia 9 months later as if nothing had happened.

Forget about the social distancing - airlines will go bust if that continues. Already domestic airlines in Vietnam and now Thailand has stopped doing that.

Keep first class by all means but I don't think it's going to be as popular as you make it out to be in the future - for starters, it will only appeal to certain key long-haul routes, while rich corporate travellers will probably choose to fly by private plane in the future, with much less trouble than commercial travel entails.


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