Malaysia Airlines says all A380s will be retired

The Malaysian flag-carrier is the latest airline to drop the axe on the superjumbo.

By David Flynn, May 4 2021
Malaysia Airlines says all A380s will be retired

Malaysia Airlines has become the latest airline to sound the death-knell for the Airbus A380, with confirmation today that all six of its superjumbos would be retired over the coming months.

"We are cognizant of the challenges to sell this aeroplane, but we are still looking at ways and means to dispose of our 380 fleet," CEO Izham Ismail said in an online press briefing on Tuesday.

"At the moment, the management is convinced that the 380 doesn't fit the future plan."

Malaysia Airlines had high hopes for the Airbus A380.
Malaysia Airlines had high hopes for the Airbus A380.

That plan will however see the Malaysian flag-carrier and Oneworld member restart the delivery schedule for its Boeing 737 MAX jets from 2024, although Ismail added "we are also exploring the possibility of taking it earlier."

Malaysia Airlines aims to have 83 aircraft in total by 2025, with the beleaguered carrier aiming to break even in 2023, in line with a full recovery of demand for air travel.

Malaysia Airlines took delivery of the 100th Airbus A380 in March 2013.
Malaysia Airlines took delivery of the 100th Airbus A380 in March 2013.

Malaysia Airlines was among Airbus' final customers to sign up for the superjumbo, taking its first delivery in 2012 – the last, which arrived in  2013, was the 100th A380 produced.

Malaysia Airlines' A380 first class was generally not considered a cutting-edge product.
Malaysia Airlines' A380 first class was generally not considered a cutting-edge product.

The A380's sported eight open first class suites (later rebranded as business suites) at the front of the lower deck, with 66 business class seats (in an outdated 2-2-2 layout) on the upper deck and 420 economy seats spread across both decks, with children under 12 controversially banned from the small upper-deck economy cabin.

For its A380 business class, Malaysia Airlines opted for a dated 2-2-2 layout.
For its A380 business class, Malaysia Airlines opted for a dated 2-2-2 layout.

The viability of the airline's A380 was often called into question, and at various stages over recent years Malaysia Airlines has considered measures such as selling off the double-decker jets or spinning them out into a seperate airline which would charter the A380s to bring Muslims across south-east Asian on the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.

"The aim is to establish an air transport system and infrastructure dedicated for Hajj and Umrah for Muslims not just from these three countries but also other ASEAN countries" Ismail remarked in February 2019, adding that the new airline would be called Amal.

Less than two weeks ago, Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas announced the Gulf carrier would keep its ten Airbus A380s grounded "indefinitely", admitting the superjumbos – adorned with the extravagant three-room Residence suite and nine spacious first class Apartments –  were "a wonderful product, but they are no longer commercially sustainable."

Etihad's A380 Residence was promoted as a three-room penthouse above the clouds.
Etihad's A380 Residence was promoted as a three-room penthouse above the clouds.

(Douglas also dropped the bombshell that Etihad would axe its entire Boeing 777-300ER fleet, charting a future with the fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 to become a smaller and more streamlined 'boutique' operation.)

Air France and Lufthansa have also called an end to the Airbus A380; Qatar Airways will retire five of its ten A380s, but the fate of the remaining A380s remains in limbo.

However, Qantas and British Airways both intend to bring their 12-strong A380 fleets back as demand for international travel rebounds.

"We think we will reactivate all of the A380s," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce forecast last month, although he doesn't expect they'll all return to the skies until demand for international travel reaches 2019 levels "in 2024." 

British Airways' CEO Sean Doyle is of a similar mind, remarking in March 2021 that the A380 "is in our plans for the future rebuild of the airline – although he allowed that "exactly when we will put the A380 back into service is something that we’re not clear on."

Emirates will keep its A380s flying until the mid-2030s.
Emirates will keep its A380s flying until the mid-2030s.

As for A380 champion Emirates, airline president Sir Tim Clark believes there's plenty of life left in those superjumbos.

"The A380, of which we have 118 at the moment and five more on delivery, will continue in the plan until the mid '30s," Clark predicts, at which point they'll be fully replaced by the Boeing 777X.

By the end of this decade and the beginning of the next, Emirates' heavy-duty fleet strategy will involve "using the A380s on the trunk routes, barreling through from east to west and north to south... with the 777X gradually slipping in to replace the A380s that eventually retire."


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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2019

Total posts 25

Oh how the mighty have fallen. My favorite plane to fly in, is being retied too soon.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 432

I wonder if Emirates will be looking to buy some of these other airlines' A380s at bargain prices? I imagine Emirates could basically set its own price, given the lack of competition from any other bidders. 


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Nov 2018

Total posts 84

I wonder if the cost to refit the second hand aircraft would put them off buying them. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

30 Aug 2018

Total posts 13

BA considered doing this. Refurbishing the interior of a used A380 costs too much. I understand because each airline had a bespoke cabin configuration with little commonality.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 150

Oh please, the last thing Emirates needs is more A380s, it tried to duck out of the delivery of the final ones.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

19 Mar 2018

Total posts 69

I'm aware that Cathay Pacific is actually looking to acquire some, to relaunch and remind everybody that they were the FIRST best airline in the world.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 150

Stop with the nonsense posts please.


05 Jun 2012

Total posts 128

I know one of the C-suite occupants at CX and I understand there's no way they'd do that given the A380's relatively low cargo capacity


Wonderful airframe, wonderful airline

Cathay ran the numbers on the A380 many years ago, they repeated the exercise maybe 3-4 years ago, both times it was obvious the A380 was not the right aircraft for them. Looking back now, you can imagine how much worse things would be for CX if they had gone and picked up a dozen A380s, it'd be money down the drain.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 633

Whilst EK might have the largest fleet of A380's, remember that these are Engine Alliance donks, not Rolls Royce-equipped engines. The two are not interchangeable.

I would hardly see EK making bids on any A380 fleets that are fitted with RR's, so the 'lack of competition' may not be as wide as you think. Creating a 'sub-fleet' and carrying spares for a frame that is no longer in production would be a very expensive exercise. And you're betting not only on the return of travel at EK to pre-COVID levels, but an expansion on that as well.

To me, there are four (4) carriers who can make the A380 work for them with their networks. Libertyscott identifies them correctly below. They are EK, SQ, QF and BA. 

EK is the only Engine Alliance user here, and the remaining three all use Rollers. I would also stretch to say that CZ (China Southern) and ANA (All Nippon Airways) may also work. CZ because it actually rotates the use of it's 5 between the Northern and South hemispheres on a seasonal basis - ANA because of the huge amount of Japanese-Hawaiian travel that their three are based on.

QR (Qatar) could also make the A380 work, if it wanted to. After all, on their prime routes to Australia and UK, one competitor (Etihad) has just withdrawn their A380. I think that AAB's focus is clearly on the B777-9 instead. You know, the old 'we've gotta have the latest / newest'.  Good luck with that.

09 Jun 2017

Total posts 27

The A380 hmmm. So many people say they were the best aircraft to fly on??? Sorry, I have had the most deplorable experiences with this aircraft. Too many delays due to missed turn arounds. Twice I have been on flights that had to return to the departure city due to serviceability issues, not to mention massive delays. Once I was re booked on another airline to get me to LAX in time for important meetings. The aircraft is a nightmare! Massive infrastructure upgrades for airports worldwide causing onward impacts to many other flights as a result. The poor economies for this aircraft have been realized by airlines during the pandemic therefore so many retirements. 

03 May 2021

Total posts 2

No surprise here, a380s are in no way fuel efficient

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Aug 2011

Total posts 165

To be fair both MH and TG bought them as much as a status symbol, as they see themselves against SQ than as a serious commercial proposition.  Neither had the density of demand on any routes to really justify it.  With the possible exception of LHR, they didn't operate out of airports that had constrained capacity.  MH has long struggled to manage a commercially viable business without political interference, and so it will be better placed to continue without the A380.  It looks like the future of the A380 for the rest of the decade will be EK, SQ, QF and BA.


03 May 2013

Total posts 591

MH were clearly on an ego trip here when they bought the A380. MH never needed this type.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 247

Of all the airlines to ditch the A380 once COVID hit, I would have ranked Malaysia Airlines and Thai right at the top. The A380 made sense for neither airline, and both were already struggling financially and driven by too much ego and government interference rather than running as a business. The A380 also never really seemed a fit for Air France. I'm glad at least that BA and Qantas plan to bring them back, even in smaller numbers, and I hope Qatar Airways does too.

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 39

Sad to hear this news. While economically sensible and no doubt the 2-2-2 format of business was outdated - hot damn, I had the longest most dreamy sleep on an aircraft ever on the MH A380's business seat. Vale MH's big bird! 

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