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.
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.
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.
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.