Malaysia Airlines is still flying the A380 on 20 minute jaunts

The superjumbos remain up for sale, so why the ‘flights to nowhere’?

By David Flynn, September 1 2022
Malaysia Airlines is still flying the A380 on 20 minute jaunts

Every few weeks, a Malaysian Airlines A380 goes thundering along the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, takes to the skies – and then, less than an hour later, returns to KLIA.

It carries no passengers, and its route is a lazy long-legged circuit which can extend west over the Malacca Straight, or east across the highlands, or take in both on a scenic flight of which tourists would be envious.

What’s behind these ‘flights to nowhere’, especially given that Malaysia Airlines intends to sell all six of its superjumbos?

They’re intended to keep the aircraft operational and in ready-to-buy condition, with each A380 taking turns on flights which have been anywhere from 21 minutes to 50 minutes long – or, we should say, short.

One of the recent KL-to-KL flights by the Malaysia Airlines A380.
One of the recent KL-to-KL flights by the Malaysia Airlines A380.

“They’re being operated on ‘mini-flights’ taking off from Kuala Lumpur and arriving back in Kuala Lumpur just to keep them serviceable,” explains Giles Gilbert, Malaysia Airlines’ Regional Manager for Australia and New Zealand.

“These are generally 20-40 minute flights just to keep the aircraft operational whilst we try and sell it.”

Malaysia Airlines has been trying to sell those A380s for almost a year now: the flag-carrier’s parent company Malaysia Aviation Group put all six superjumbos on the block in July 2021 as whole aircraft or as “components.”

And while some airlines are once again flying the A380 – including Lufthansa and Qatar Airways, which previously wrote off the double-decker jet – Group CEO Izham Ismail recently noted “at the moment, we have no plans to restore service for the A380s and are still targeting to exit the A380 fleet by the end of 2022.”

That’s still the plan, says Gilbert: “we’ve already made public our desire to release the A380s from the fleet by the end of this year.”

Malaysia Airlines' A380 first class.
Malaysia Airlines' A380 first class.

It’s been a long and bumpy road for the Malaysia Airlines A380s. The Oneworld member was among Airbus’ final customers to sign up for the superjumbo, taking its first delivery in 2012 – the last, which arrived the following year, was the 100th A380 produced.

Its choice of first class was generally not considered a cutting-edge product, with eight open first class suites (later rebranded as Business Suites) at the front of the lower deck; 66 business class seats (in an outdated 2-2-2 layout) on the upper deck; and 420 economy seats spread across both decks.

At one stage, children under 12 were controversially banned from the small upper-deck economy cabin.

Malaysia Airlines' A380 business class.
Malaysia Airlines' A380 business class.

The A380s were initially flown to London and Paris, and later appeared on selected regional routes such as Sydney.

But the poor economics of the A380 for Malaysia Airlines’ network and demand soon became clear, with then-CEO Christoph Mueller planning to retire them by 2018 in favour of the fuel-efficient Airbus A350.

The airline then considered a range of measures including spinning the superjumbos 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, before their sale became the only option remaining on the table.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1197

A full A380 does not have poor operating economics; it struggles when it is less than 80% full and that is the problem both MH and TG had with them.  Unfortunately both airlines are viewed as poor cousins to SQ so don't attract the customers particularly in premium cabins.

I have flown on MH A380s and, like all A380s, it offered an unparalleled customer experience.  For an airline that sees demand in the super category that obviously can't be filled by newbuilds, these lightly used birds must have some attraction.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Nov 2016

Total posts 129

The A380 for Malaysia Airlines has unfortunately been a poor business decision.

19 Jul 2018

Total posts 8

From day 1 the MH cabins were sub par. Ive flown first on TG’s A380s and it much plusher and chic than MH. If you look at the pic of their business class there’s zero privacy and more the sort of product you’d have on leisure routes favoured by couples. 

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 167

My thoughts exactly about the lack of privacy in MH's a380 2-2-2 business class layout. But then again, QF was also sub-par from Day 1 with the same layout and same lack of privacy on their a380s too. So yes, lots of 'blame' to go around and not something unique to MH. Having said that, I split my premium travel to London on both SQ and MH these past few years...and I really don't mind MH's new a350 business class at all!

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