Qantas: Airbus A380 upgrades, Boeing 747 retirement still on track

Good news for the superjumbo, not so much for the original jumbo jet...

By David Flynn, April 9 2020
Qantas: Airbus A380 upgrades, Boeing 747 retirement still on track

Qantas says plans to refurbish its Airbus A380s and retire its Boeing 747 remain on track, despite the coronavirus hurling a giant-sized spanner into the works.

Three of the airline's 12 superjumbos had received their million-dollar make-over before Qantas suspended all international flights, with three more now at refurb and maintenance sites in Dresden and Abu Dhabi.

The remaining six A380s have been parked at Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles, where Qantas engineers have prepared the big double-decker jets for an extended stay – similar to garaging a car during a tough northern hemisphere winter – so that they can come out of hibernation when they're ready to fly again.

When that will be remains to be seen. "Nobody knows when this is going to end," says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, with the airline having its own hibernation-mode plans "for three months, six months, nine months, a year."

It's expected that domestic travel will return well ahead of international travel, with overseas trips led by business travellers and high-end holiday-makers across 2022.

Read: Post-coronavirus, 'normal' travel may not resume until 2023

The new-look Qantas Airbus A380.
The new-look Qantas Airbus A380.

Qantas' Airbus A380s could well be the last of the fleet to take wing, as a slow restart and reduced passenger numbers would favour smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 787-9 and, for flights to Asia, the Airbus A330.

Qantas is still aiming to upgrade its six 'classic' superjumbos – outfitting them with refreshed first class suites, new business class and premium economy seats plus two new onboard lounges – and to have that work completed by the end of 2020.

However, Executive Traveller understands that knock-on effects of the coronavirus – including a slowing of the supply chain and temporary closures of some factories and facilities – could slow the pace and see the program stretch into 2021.

The upgraded Qantas superjumbos sport two new lounges on the upper deck.
The upgraded Qantas superjumbos sport two new lounges on the upper deck.

Photos: See what's new in Qantas' upgraded Airbus A380 superjumbo

Each passing month also makes it less likely that Qantas' five remaining Boeing 747s will return to the skies, after the iconic jumbo made the airline's last scheduled passenger flight before the international shut-down.

Qantas maintains it hasn't officially retired the Boeing 747, nor sold them off, with the previous plan to put all five 747s out to pasture by the end of 2020 remaining in place.

The countdown clock is running out on the Boeing 747.
The countdown clock is running out on the Boeing 747.

But the longer its international flights are grounded, and the deeper the post-COVID19 travel slump, the less likely the Queen of the Skies will make even a victory lap.

As with other airlines which have recently retired their Boeing 747s – Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines – big things were planned for the former flagship's finale, but as with Qantas' own centenary celebrations, the coronavirus quickly put that on hold, and may now have hastened the jumbo's demise.

Also read: Blast from the past – the original Qantas Boeing 747 'Captain Cook lounge'

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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Jun 2017

Total posts 4

According to Qantas Source 747 VH-OEG was withdrawn and flew out to LAX on 5/4/2020.

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 81

VH-OEG technically not withdrawn yet, but instead repositioned to storage at LAX on 05/04/2020 as you say - which still gives the option to operate some of the upcoming planned flights / ad-hoc repatriation flights. But also only a short flight to the boneyard if they decide to withdraw. Of the 6 strong 747-400ER fleet, only VH-OEF has been officially withdrawn yet, which flew the points flight to LAX on 09/02, followed by the short hop over to San Bernadino on 13/02.

According to Flightradar24 OEG headed over to Mojave yesterday (09/04/20) - sounds like retirement to me.

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 81

OEG is still on the register at this stage, but will now most likely be turned into beer cans if it has repositioned over to Mojave...... That said however, the QF facility at LAX only has room for 4 aircraft and there are already 3x A380 and 1x B787 there. I suspect we will see accelerated retirement of the remaining 747's sadly.

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 81

For those curious on the current A380 fleet location:

  • SYD storage - VH-OQA, OQC, OQH (new config), OQL
  • MEL storage - VH-OQE, OQK (new config)
  • LAX storage - VH-OQB,OQF, OQJ (new config),
  • Abu Dhabi planned maintenance - VH-OQD (since 07/03/2020)
  • Dresden refit - VH-OQG (since 02/02/2020), OQI (since 24/03/2020)

09 Apr 2020

Total posts 1

Great news and way overdue re the upgraded Qantas A380 cabins. Flew LA to Melb prior to coronavirus pandemic shutdown, and the Qantas A380 business class cabin was so tired it was gasping. The lay flat seat had a sag like a limp asparagus, and needed to be held up at the footwell end with a box! A perusal of the cabin saw I was not alone, others had their so called 'lay flat' beds propped up with boxes and whatever else could be found. Considering the cost of a QF business class anywhere, this was beyond appalling. The tiny VOD screens are now ridiculously outdated.

01 Apr 2020

Total posts 4

OK< if Qantas has a plan for repatriating Aussies from the U.S., is it possible that they might allow bookings to U.S. citizens "stuck" in Australia to return home?

I must say that my wife and I consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be weathering this pandemic here in Oz - but are anxious to get home when possible.

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 81

Yes - Qantas are operating a weekly B787 service BNE-LAX the next few Thursdays which you can book directly with Qantas - 16th, 23rd and 30th April. If not already in Queensland you will only get in on a connecting flight, so don't try and drive over the state border to BNE as you will not be allowed in by road. Qatar is another option heading westbound via Abu Dhabi, but that involves 2 long haul legs and probably only makes sense if you are trying to get to USA East Coast. currently have depatures from SYD/MEL/PER and can potentially connect through Abu Dhabi to BOS/JFK/IAD/MIA and also to ORD/ATL/DFW. All obviously with reduced schedules. Hope that helps.

"Qatar is another option heading westbound via Abu Dhabi," <-- I think born2fish meant through Doha

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 81

Yes - well spotted. I meant Qatar via Doha. You won't be seeing any Qatari aircraft in the UAE anytime soon......

KLM - Flying Blue

05 Feb 2019

Total posts 38

The B-747 has been connecting people around the world for decades, bringing joy and admiration to many.

I would love to see some of the B-747's spend their retirement in science and tech museums around the world.

And to keep us inspired showing this unique Qantas Livery

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2016

Total posts 23

We flew to London aboard QF1 on 25th February in the refurbed Business Cabin and it was fabulous. 1 - 2 - 1 and so spacious. When you realize Economy downstairs were ten wide. Just so much space, and the new layout of the seats is splendid. The overhead bins also allow easy storage. The staff were absolutely amazing on both legs. (we did the Singapore break) They were so courteous, efficient and happy. Food was amazing, and such personal service.

The staff on our (non-refurbed) QF2 home were absolutely excellent, even though they knew their future was so undecided. (We arrived the day after the self??-isolation came in.)

We have never had a "bad" Qantas flight (we are Gold), but this QF1 was absolutely the best. We can't wait for the refurbishing to be competed and these marvelous planes to be back in the sky.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Jun 2017

Total posts 4

According to Qantas Source Withdrawn QANTAS Boeing 747-438ER VH-OEG positioned Los Angeles – Mojava Air and Space Port this morning as QF6001

09/04/2020

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 557

It's not overly clear in the article, but are Qantas still planing on refurbishing all 12 of the A380's this year (or ever) or only 6, being the 3 already done and the three in maintenance/refit now?

21 Apr 2017

Total posts 10

I wouldn't be surprised if Qantas maybe retire 2 or 3 of their Airbus 380's. I can't see the passenger demand rushing back at least for the next couple of years. We know what it costs to keep the 380's in the sky, so the scrutiny will be immense from the beancounters at Qantas. I personally love the plane & it would be a shame to see them retired early. Will Qantas look to modernise it's fleet to more fuel efficient aircraft? Lower operating costs will be paramount for any airline moving forward. Interesting times ahead. Time will tell.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Qantas: Airbus A380 upgrades, Boeing 747 retirement still on track