Qantas will ground its entire flagship Airbus A380 fleet until at least the middle of 2023 as the airline comes to grips with what's expected to be a prolonged downturn in international travel.
"We're parking the A380s for at least three years," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce confirmed to media during a press teleconference following the announcement of a sweeping three-year 'post-Covid recovery plan'.
With Qantas forecasting its international network to reach only 50% of its pre-pandemic capacity during the 2021-2022 financial year, Joyce said the A380s "don’t have any use during this period of time."
Joyce said he doesn't expect the Qantas' international network to restart "in any real size from July next year", with those flights led by the smaller Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 jets "to establish the network as fast as possible."
However, "the A380s have to remain on the ground for at least three years until we see those international volumes brought back," Joyce said.
"The aircraft are being put into the Mojave Desert, where the environment protects the aircraft (because) we have the intention at the right time to restart them, but that is a considerable amount of time away."
Can the superjumbo survive?
Although all 12 A380s will remain in hibernation, the six which have been upgraded with the latest business class seats and inflight lounges would be first to return to the skies.
The fate of the second six will hinge on the projected recovery for Qantas' flagship routes to London and the US, and the outcome of a sweeping review of the airline's entire international fleet to reshape it around post-coronavirus travel demand.
"There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told Executive Traveller on May 5, when he announced the review.
"That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like.... we don’t know when the big markets like the US and the UK, which use the A380s, will open, and when,” Joyce added.
Over the next few years, the Boeing 787-9 will become Qantas' international workhorse "to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, London and Asia," Joyce said.
When flights to London eventually resume, those are expected to run only on the Qantas Boeing 787 between Perth and London, with Singapore downgraded to an end-destination served to by Airbus A330s and Boeing 787s.
If demand increases beyond the 236-seat capacity of the Boeing 787-9, Qantas would likely add a second daily Dreamliner service onto the route – enacting the same plan as announced in March 2020 when the Sydney-Singapore-London QF1/QF2 Airbus A380 service was set to be rerouted via Perth on a Boeing 787-9.
The airline is also winding up its Boeing 747 fleet, marking a fanfare-free end for the aircraft dubbed 'Queen of the Skies' by its fans, and which for decades was the backbone of Qantas' international fleet.
The iconic jumbos were due for retirement by the end of 2020 in favour of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, but that timetable has been brought forward six months, with the last red-tailed Boeing 747 departing Sydney at the end of June, bound for Mojave's aviation 'boneyard'.