Qantas to retire A380 from 2032, replace with A350

The red-tailed superjumbos will fly into the sunset in the early 2030s...

By David Flynn, August 24 2023
Qantas to retire A380 from 2032, replace with A350

Qantas will phase out the mighty Airbus A380 from 2032, with the Airbus A350 taking its place on key long-range international routes to London and the USA.

The airline this morning confirmed the superjumbo sunset, saying it would “ultimately replace its 10 A380s with A350s from around FY32 onwards.”

In the interim, twelve A350-1000 jets will join the Qantas fleet from FY28 alongside a dozen Boeing 787s from FY27 in a unique split order “to progressively replace its existing A330s.”

Those A350s are separate to the twelve ultra-long range A350-1000s fitted with an extra fuel tank to undertake Qantas’ ambitious non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London and New York from the end of 2025 and supplement the A380-based network.

Executive Traveller understands these additional A350-1000s will be fitted with the same seats as the Sunrise jets, including those private business class suites and hopefully first class too, although without the Wellbeing Zone between premium economy and economy.

“Our A380s still have a lot of life left in them, especially given their recent cabin updates,” noted Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce – upgrades which include the airline's latest business class and premium economy, along with a fresh take on the upper-deck lounge.

Qantas is upgrading its A380s with new business class seats and lounges.
Qantas is upgrading its A380s with new business class seats and lounges.

“But as part of the pipeline we’re building, I can announce they will be replaced by the Airbus A350 from about FY32 onwards.”

On top of those dozen A350-1000s, Qantas says it has negotiated “options and purchase rights... which we can draw down on as needed for replacement and growth over the next decade and beyond.”

Although Qantas originally ordered 20 of the double-decker superjumbos, it took up only 12 – and during the pandemic decided to scrap two of those, leaving just ten A380s in the fleet.

A long history

Qantas was among the first airlines in the world to order the Airbus A380 – in fact, when then-CEO James Strong signed on the dotted line in November 2000, the double-decker jets were still known by their codename of the A3XX.

“We are delighted to see Qantas becoming not only an Airbus customer but also a launch customer for the all-new A3XX,” noted a press release issued by Airbus to mark the occasion.

“When it enters service in 2006, the A3XX will bring new standards of flying to the whole world. It will introduce wider seats and a more spacious cabin for all passengers, as well as 15-20% lower operating costs per seat than today's largest competing airliner.”

By the time Qantas collected the keys for its first superjumbo in September 2008 – two years later than Airbus promised – its order had swelled to 20 A380s, making it the aircraft’s second largest customer after Emirates.

Part of the dazzling delivery ceremony for the first Qantas Airbus A380.
Part of the dazzling delivery ceremony for the first Qantas Airbus A380.

These videos from Airbus and Qantas captured the delivery ceremony and the departure of that first A380 for Sydney.

“Taking delivery of the first of our A380s is an important occasion for us,” said then-CEO designate Alan Joyce at the time.

“It is both a culmination – following years of meticulous design development – and a beginning, with the A380 leading us into a new chapter in the story of Qantas.”

Airbus and Qantas executives at the handover of the first Qantas A380.
Airbus and Qantas executives at the handover of the first Qantas A380.

That said, the debut of Qanta’’ premium A380 experience was considered “underwhelming” in the wake of Singapore Airlines and Emirates, with their enclosed first class suites, spacious business class seats and of course Emirates’ upper deck cocktail bar.

“To be fair, Singapore Airlines and Emirates set a pretty high bar,” reflected one aviation executive who attended the launch, but preferred not to be identified so as to speak freely to Executive Traveller

“When they pulled back the curtain on the A380 product it was all a bit underwhelming, especially the 2-2-2 business class layout and a narrow lounge which appeared more of an afterthought, a way to use otherwise dead space.”

But the era of the Qantas A380 had arrived, with 20 of the superjumbos due to be handed over through to 2015 – and Qantas was considering expanding its A380 fleet even further.

“We can see real reasons for us to take more A380s to allow for some growth and to replace some aircraft,” suggested then-CEO Goeff Dixon. “That’s our belief in how good this aircraft is.”

Twelve is enough...

As it happened, not only did Qantas freeze its order at 20 superjumbos but halted deliveries at number 12, in December 2011.

Those dozen A380s were sufficient to cover Qantas' flagship routes from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and London via Singapore, with the superjumbos later spreading their wings to Dallas/Forth Worth and, during peak seasons, Hong Kong.

The first class experience on Qantas' Airbus A380.
The first class experience on Qantas' Airbus A380.

Meanwhile, a gaping hole the size of eight A380s sat on Airbus’ books for the next five years, until Qantas boss Joyce made public what everybody else had long suspected.

“Our intention is that we're not taking those aircraft,” he told the CAPA Australia Pacific Summit in August 2016.

“We have 12 aircraft, and the 12 aircraft we have are fantastic aircraft and actually serve the missions we have.”

“We believe there’s a network for 12: it’s very good and it works very well. We struggle with a network for the next eight, so that’s why we keep pushing them back.”

The superjumbo ‘sweet spot’

In February 2019, Qantas got around to making it official: “Following discussions with Airbus, Qantas has now formalised its decision not to take eight additional A380s that were ordered in 2006" the airline confirmed, adding that “these aircraft have not been part of the airline’s fleet and network plans for some time.”

The problem was that the world’s biggest commercial airliner was simply too big for its time and for an airline like Qantas.

The airline had only a handful of major ’point to point’ routes suited to the superjumbo's economy of scale, compared to the ’mega-hub’ models of Emirates and Singapore Airlines, where transit passengers could be funnelled onto dozens of popular routes.

Qantas was forced to immediately ground all Airbus A380s in March 2020.
Qantas was forced to immediately ground all Airbus A380s in March 2020.

Barely a year later, in March 2020, Qantas grounded all twelve A380s – along with the rest of its international fleet – as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

The superjumbos were all flown to the USA for storage, with some residing in Qantas' A380 hangar at LAX while most were mothballed at the Victorville Southern California Logistics Airport, with arid conditions and specialised care protecting them against deterioration until high demand for international travel returned.

Most of the Qantas A380s remain parked at Victorville, on the edge of Southern California's Mojave Desert.
Most of the Qantas A380s remain parked at Victorville, on the edge of Southern California's Mojave Desert.

“The A380s have to remain on the ground for at least three years until we see those international volumes brought back,” Joyce said at the time. 

Read: How Qantas put its Airbus A380s into hibernation 

One member of the fleet was already in Airbus’ Dresden facility in Germany being upgraded as part of a multi-million dollar modernisation program, and flew straight into deep storage at Victorville.

“There’s an aircraft that has plastic on brand new seats that came directly from Germany into the Mojave Desert,” Joyce recounted.

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.

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

“We don’t think demand will get back to 2019 levels until 2024,” Joyce said, “and that’s why we’re assuming the A380s are going to be parked in the desert for those three years... and if we’re wrong and demand is a lot better than we expect, we can reactive the A380s within 3-6 months.”

In this instance, Joyce was more than happy to be wrong – the first A380 flew back home at the end of 2021, and more qere quickly assigned to the flagship Sydney-London and Sydney-Los Angeles routes,

“These were key markets for Qantas before Covid, and given how well they have recovered, we expect travel demand on these routes to be strong enough for the A380,” Joyce predicted.

The returning A380s are being upgraded with the airline’s latest business class and premium economy seats – using the same designs as the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners – along with two premium lounges on the upper deck and a refresh of the first class suites.

“But we won’t get all 10 of them back until well into 2024,” Joyce predicted, owing to the complexities of awakening a sleeping superjumbo.

“Just to wake up an A38O is 4,500 hours, or two months, of manpower,” Joyce has noted. “That’s 10 engineers working for two months in the Mojave Desert – for one plane.”

“They replace all 22 wheels, all 16 brakes, get rid of all of the oxygen cylinders and fire extinguishers.”

“The aircraft is put up on jacks in the middle of the desert. Its gear is tested, the aircraft’s engines are run in the desert to make sure that they're all functioning. That’s just to get out of the desert to Los Angeles or to another maintenance facility.”

“When the aircraft’s flown out, most of the aircraft then go through 100 days of maintenance on top of that.”

Qantas now aims to have ten Airbus A380s flying by 2024.
Qantas now aims to have ten Airbus A380s flying by 2024.

However, that’s where Qantas drew a line under its superjumbo fleet, with two A380s being retired “because they will be surplus to requirements.”

But those ten remaining superjumbos became super cash machines after the airline slashed their book value in mid-2020.

“We took a substantial write-down on the A380s in June 2020, our current written-down value is $490 million,” Qantas CFO and incoming CEO Vanessa Hudson told Executive Traveller in early 2021.

“Customers love the A380, and it also serves routes that have slot constraints, so flying an aircraft with a bigger capacity delivers significant cash for the group.”

Also read: The Airbus A380 first class concept cabins you never saw…

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Nov 2013

Total posts 28

They will need to increase the frequency of the Intercontinental flights with the A350 to make up for the reduction in capacity of the A380. That could be a problem with slot constrained Heathrow.


22 Oct 2012

Total posts 317

There are slot restraints at LHR, but QF has one or two up there sleeve there.  Remember QF32?  QF are still leasing the slots for that flight to BA.

01 Dec 2012

Total posts 47

Qantas has spare LHR slots that are currently leased to others. If needed they can be used again by Qantas, no doubt with adequate notice.

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1250

As far as I know, Qantas owns 4 slots at Heathrow but only uses 2.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Mar 2015

Total posts 96

Agree, and with Emirates going through a similar process it's means codeshares into London will be equally problematic. Presumably Project Sunrise expansion to Paris, Rome, Frankfurt will help spread the load. 

15 Mar 2018

Total posts 89

A key reason why Emirates fly A380 to  LHR is their slots would need to be doubled, maybe tripled to accommodate smaller aircraft and LHR are actually cutting back on slots.


02 Nov 2012

Total posts 48

Maybe more direct flights to other European destinations so reducing the nuimber of pax goling via LHR?

Or maybe flights in to LGW as well?  Is that slot constrained?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 102

LGW is a shirt fight. They’d have to cut the fare by ⅔ for me to even consider it again 


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1501

"All of the returning A380s have been upgraded with the airline's latest business class and premium economy seats" - this is not true. I flew an A380 just few weeks ago from SIN to SYD and specifically check out business cabin and it was equipped with old ugly 2-2-2 angle seats. Well, QF say that they are "lie-flat", but in reality they sag so much under feet that effectively became angle-flat. It was just like a blast from the past - lucky I was in First.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 68

Yep. Just flew SYD-LAX and it was on a non-refurbished plane. Felt very old and tatty. Terrible experience for the prices they’re charging…


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1501

Some government body should prohibit them to charge the same money for so different product and it should be clear upfront what you going to use. There must not be replacement or if it happens PAX should be notified and either offered re-booking or compensation. Just my peach dream.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Nov 2011

Total posts 28

Glad to see a replacement plan for the a330s, I took a flight to Perth last week and the J cabin is looking very, very tired, with lots of wear and tear.  I cannot help but wonder if Qantas will retrofit the business seats on the current 787-9s with doors.  I believe they selected the same seat as Delta (Vantage XL) however Delta have obviously done quite a bit of changes to the ‘standard’ configuration to make it a private suite.  Does anyone have any knowledge if this would be feasible?  It would obviously be a weight penalty but the current Dreamliners have some very lengthy overnight flight times (many 17h+), it seems strange that Project Sunrise’s a350s would have a far superior cabin in terms of privacy, especially on long overnight flights where sleep is a priority for many. I wonder if they contemplated doing this when retrofitting the new cabins on the a380s but for whatever reason decided against it.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 102

It was suggested to me that this door thing is being held up by CASA

29 Feb 2016

Total posts 27

Thats 10 years down the track.. Big deal

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 118

Interesting. Based on that there’s less wide bodies.   It’ll be curious to see what the 321’s do

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Apr 2016

Total posts 21

Love the A380.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 93

Reduced capacity per day is just that and a day will not increase from 24 hours. We've all seen what a shortage of semiconductors has done to car prices and airfares will follow. Those on a lower economic level will find air travel unaffordable whilst others will go back a cabin class. More people will want/need to travel by 2032 than ever and taking the best airplane out of service without an equivalent replacement is profit focus in an industry which no longer is a luxury but an essential service in the modern world.


17 May 2017

Total posts 12

Agree that smaller planes just don't make sense for the future as demand increases, but by 2032, won't the A380's be past (or near) their use by date anyway?

05 Jan 2021

Total posts 24


Qantas seems to be working hard to improve the hard product in their services and fair enough - sitting in J in a 737 on a trans Australia flight to Perth is pretty   underwhelming .

But are there not low hanging fruit they could tackle with more immediate effect ?

How about revising their business class menus both domestic and international ?

Getting a choice recently of a cheese toasty/  a sausage roll / some grains on green  "leaves" on a three and a half QF Melbourne to Cairns flight in business Class  left me thinking someone in Qantas Catering must be living in a different world if they think this is consistent with the image Qantas is trying to project!

Its great that Qantas has decided on replacements. However, there is no projection for proper capacity increases by the time A380's are retired. A positive is yes....more flight times to specific routes....the bad....projected high airfares and no growth. I literally do not see QF as a company that will grow and develop currently. I severely hope the new CEO will take an approach differently to AJ. I love the QF brand, but its hard to feel the love with the brand in its current state. So much potential...yet it ALWAYS misses the mark. I just want them to do better instead of thinking, "hey, reduce this because i get a better bonus". But hey...that's the world we live in. Greed. QF....they are no longer a national airline....people who think they are...are clearly blind to their actions and the world today. Just make an open market and let this dinosaur live or die at their own ability to adjust properly. I have no sympathy to this airline anymore. They made their bed....albeit a luxury one for the ones in charge. 

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