Sad sight: Google Earth shows Qantas A380s sitting idle in the desert

They've flown you to Singapore, London and the USA: now they're parked in the desert, hoping one day to return to the skies.

By David Flynn, January 22 2021
Sad sight: Google Earth shows Qantas A380s sitting idle in the desert

Warning: this article may trigger depression among readers, especially those with fond memories of soaring aloft in the Qantas Airbus A380.

As the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and its longer-term impact on travel became clear, Qantas made the difficult but necessary call to put its flagship Airbus A380s into hibernation for at least the next three years.

Most of the 12-strong superjumbo fleet, which had already been grounded at the end of March 2020, made a long lonely trek to Victorville, on the edge of California's Mojave Desert.

And there they'll stay – protected against deterioration by the low humidity and arid climate – until demand for international travel returns to pre-COVID levels, which Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce believes isn't likely "until 2023-2024."

Has the sun set on Qantas' mighty Airbus A380s?
Has the sun set on Qantas' mighty Airbus A380s?

Which brings us to the forlorn sight now available at Google Earth: a snapshot of those Qantas A380s, sitting among hundreds of other mothballed jets at Victorville's Southern California Logistics Airport.

The 0.97kmfacility offers 'long-term parking' for more than 500 planes, and you can visit it on Google Earth at this link.

Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.
Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.

If you pull back and pan up along the runway, you'll spy row upon row of aircraft from airlines around the world.

Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.
Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.

And at the far end of their ranks sit nine Qantas A380s (click this Google Earth link to jump straight there).

Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.
Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.
Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.
Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.

The iconic red tails and Qantas branding are unmistakeable, especially once you zoom in.

Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.
Google Earth provides a bird's-eye view of Qantas' Airbus A380s in storage.

(Update: reader pjflyer has spotted the tenth A380 parked well away from the crowd – perhaps some airplane-style social distancing? – at the end of runway 21.)

That's not the entire Qantas A380 fleet: two more are in residence at Qantas' dedicated engineering and maintenance hangar at LAX.

While on the ground, those A380s aren't just gathering cobwebs (in fact, every opening from the mighty engine intakes to airflow sensors are covered to keep insects out). The 22 massive tyres are rotated regularly, and the four Herculean engines are fired up every few weeks.

"When you park an aeroplane, it’s not like parking a car – you don’t just switch it off and lock the doors," explains Qantas’ Head of Maintenance John Walker.

"We actually do lots of maintenance on the aircraft to ensure it’s in a maintainable condition when it comes back to service."

Read more: How Qantas will hibernate its Airbus A380 for the next three years

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.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 387

It will be more depressing if Google Earth still showed a significant proportion of domestic planes are still lined up parked end to end on the tarmac in major airports in Australia due to uncertainty of state border closure on pax traffic 

15 Nov 2017

Total posts 8

Hi David

the 10th a/c is on RWY21!!

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2501

Well spotted, pjflyer, join us next week for another avgeek edition of Where's Wally LOL  :)

23 Jan 2021

Total posts 1

Hi David

You´ll also find an undelivered QF 789 next to the GE Aviation Hangar at the east of RWY35! 

aren't the costs of operating an A380 all about fuel costs ? If fuel is cheap, then surely A380s are viable. All about fuel burn(ie. $$$$) I thought.

15 Nov 2017

Total posts 8

Yes but to achieve greater than break-even costs, QF still have to get a good load on a 380 to make it profitable, whereas the 787/350s are far more fuel efficient (i.e. to the order of 20%) AND require less pax to break even.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2015

Total posts 10

Where there's a significant premium market, the A380 can thrive through marketing it's First and Business cabins. When international travel finally revives, the return of the 380 will depend on the demand for premium seats. One would think that is still at least a couple of years away, if at all.

alternatively A380 operators can put more seats in economy. There was talk of an all economy A380 with up to 1000 seats. That could be very profitable, with slimline seats so legroom wouldn't be reduced.

15 Nov 2017

Total posts 8

it would certainly be a shame to see the a/c retired widely as it is a superb a/c to fly on in terms of space, noise and comfort.  Hopefully airlines will be financially and operationally capable to return the 380 in due course, but i agree, this will likely be in 2023

g6s
g6s

22 Jan 2021

Total posts 4

As a resident of Central Australia, who calls Australia home, one of the saddest things about the Qantas A380s parked in the Mojave Desert  and LA is that Qantas did not choose the Australian arid zone alternative in Alice Springs, where more than 100 mainly Asian airlines have mothballed their planes. These include a large number of  Cathay Pacific planes and Singapore Airlines A380s. In this pandemic Qantas clearly believes that supporting local business is not necessary (except for protecting every cent of their bottom line), is not considering the country’s economy as a whole, and yet grabs every advantage it can from government financial support. So selfish!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 435

As is often the case, there's more to the decision than most people think. QF's major A380 service facility/hangar is at LAX. That's why QF's A380s were sent to California, but most of QF's other long haul aircraft (B787, A330) were not.

QF's LAX-based A380 engineers can easily travel between LAX and VCV for minor maintenance, and when it comes time to reintroduce the aircraft to service (with some major tech work required to do so), it's a quick and easy procedure to fly them from VCV to the LAX hangar to get them back online ASAP.

QF

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 179

And in normal times you would see a couple of A380's parked up there each day, between early morning arrival from Australia and evening departures back.  A road runs right past the facility, between it and the beach and at a level below,  so you would look up and see the aircraft close and above you.  Could be an amazing and unusual sight.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 May 2017

Total posts 12

The parking lot in Alice Springs is full already, so no room for the QF Airbuses

thought they were extending the "parking lot" at ASP as we speak ?

QF

02 Nov 2012

Total posts 43

Isn't ASP also not as dry as VCV?

g6s
g6s

22 Jan 2021

Total posts 4

The average annual percentage of humidity at Sacramento ... close  to Vacaville ...  is: 66.0% e average relative humidity in Alice Springs is 24 per cent. 

Average annual rainfall at Vacaville is 24.53 inches. Rainfall at Alice Springs averages 283 mm (about 11 inches) each year.

Victorville, not Vacaville is nowhere near Sacramento.

g6s
g6s

22 Jan 2021

Total posts 4

My mistake ..... no excuse, careless reading when trying to help.  However, Victorville’s data is Average Humidity 65.8% and average rainfall is about 130mm. Lower rainfall but higher average humidity, maybe because Victorville is only about 150km from the ocean whereas Alice Springs is 1200km from the nearest “beach”.

VCV to SMF - roughly a 6 1/2 hour drive or 40 mins flying in a B777 !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2015

Total posts 10

Yes, Victorville (not Vacaville) has an average rainfall of less than 4 inches!

Vacaville is a little less than 100km north-east of San Francisco. Victorville is 180km by road (North-east) from LAX.

QF

02 Nov 2012

Total posts 43

Sorry meant Victorville not Vacaville

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Nov 2012

Total posts 14

I only counted 9 in that link. Where are the other 3? QF has 12 A380's

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2015

Total posts 10

If you scan around airport you'll see another close to the runway 21 threshold. The other two are in LAX.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Mar 2016

Total posts 42

Sad to see them all there and I hope they come back into service soon. While it is sad seeing them in the desert have you seen the google earth image of JFK, not exactly sure when it was taken it says c2021 but I first noticed it last year but while I have not gone through it metre by metre there appears to be no aircraft at any terminal, except for the historic Lockheed Constellation at the old TWA terminal. I really can't believe at anytime even at the height of the current pandemic that there would be no aircraft at the terminals.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/John+F.+Kennedy+International+Airport/@40.6417138,-73.7843164,728m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c26650d5404947:0xec4fb213489f11f0!8m2!3d40.6413111!4d-73.7781391

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Nov 2012

Total posts 14

Thank you! I did scan, but didn't go that way :) 

24 Jan 2021

Total posts 1

970km2 is rather large (30x30km) . I think it’s size is 97ha which is 0.97 km2. 

23 Jan 2021

Total posts 1

The editor and author Mr. Flynn states that while the A-380 planes are parked "the four Herculean engines are fired up every few weeks." 

Absolutely not true. Just think of all the effort to unseal the engines, etc. and what would happen to any plane(s) parked in the jet thrust of those engines!!  They won't be moved (tricky in itself), unsealed and checked out for airworthiness until brought back into service.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Sad sight: Google Earth shows Qantas A380s sitting idle in the desert