Qantas has just made its last Airbus A380 flight until 2023

All twelve Qantas superjumbos have been stood down "for at least three years," says airline CEO Alan Joyce.

By David Flynn, September 28 2020
Qantas has just made its last Airbus A380 flight until 2023

Qantas' proud flagship, the double-decker Airbus A380, has just made its last international flight for at least the next three years – and there's an increasingly good chance that not all of the red-tailed superjumbos will return to the skies.

A solitary A380 had been laid up in Dresden, Germany, being fitted with refreshed first class suites, new business class seats and two revamped lounges at the front of the upper deck.

Six of Qantas' twelve superjumbos have been refurbished.
Six of Qantas' twelve superjumbos have been refurbished.

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

On Friday September 25 it made a 9,400km, 11-hour trek from the Dresden maintenance facility direct to Victorville, on the edge of California's Mojave Desert, joining nine of its siblings to wait out the worst of the COVID-19 storm.

The last international flight of a Qantas A380, for several years to come...
The last international flight of a Qantas A380, for several years to come...

Executive Traveller understands that two more Qantas A380s reside at Los Angeles, where the airline opened its own dedicated LAX maintenance hangar in January 2017.

Also read: How Qantas will hibernate its Airbus A380 for the next three years

All twelve A380s will remain grounded until at least the middle of 2023 pending the recovery of demand for air travel in the post-pandemic world.

"We're parking the A380s for at least three years," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said in June 2020.

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... the A380s have to remain on the ground for at least three years until we see those international volumes brought back."

Qantas predicts that international flights are "unlikely to restart before July 2021," with the exception of country-specific travel bubbles to the likes of New Zealand and Singapore – and those flights would be led by the smaller Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 jets "to establish the network as fast as possible."

The sun is setting on Qantas' mighty Airbus A380s.
The sun is setting on Qantas' mighty Airbus A380s.

Only six of Qantas' 12-strong A380 fleet has been upgraded with the new seats and cabins, and those would be the first to return when sufficient passengers are ready to travel on key long-range routes. However, that half-sized fleet might be all that makes it back from the desert.

"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, after announcing a sweeping review of the airline's entire international fleet to reshape it around post-COVID travel demand.

"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.

A change in fortune

This uncertain fate stands in stark contrast to 2008, when Qantas took delivery of its first Airbus A380, with the super-heavyweight raising the bar for Qantas first class and business class.

Fast-forward a dozen years and the A380s have not only been mothballed but their book value was slashed as part of a $1.4 billion write-down for the 2020 financial year, which saw Qantas report a staggering $2.7 billion loss.

Ironically, Qantas' last-for-now A380 flight came as the last-forever A380 rolled off Airbus’ production line at Toulouse, France, and Qantas is just one of many airlines sidelining the Airbus A380s.

Air France announced in May it would scrap its entire Airbus A380 fleet with immediate effect, while Lufthansa's eight remaining superjumbos (six have already been let go) are moving into long-term storage will only come back “in the event of an unexpectedly rapid market recovery."

Likewise, Qatar Airways' CEO remarked in May that its ten A380s "will not return for at least a year, maybe never."

The fate of Singapore Airlines' flagship Airbus A380s will be decided in the coming months following an extensive review of both the size and shape of the airline's network, and the jets needed to fly it.

Is there a water cannon farewell in store for some of Singapore Airlines' A380s?
Is there a water cannon farewell in store for some of Singapore Airlines' A380s?

All 19 of the airline's double-decker juggernauts have been grounded since March.

Singapore Airlines has already flagged that its fleet review "is likely to lead to a material impairment of the carrying values of older generation aircraft, particularly the A380 aircraft which would account for approximately $1 billion."

Singapore Airlines was the prestigious launch customer for the Airbus A380 in October 2007, and from December 2017 added a second tranche of newer A380s sporting upgraded first and business class designs.

Singapore Airlines' latest A380s sport six spacious first class suites.
Singapore Airlines' latest A380s sport six spacious first class suites.

Emirates, however, remains bullish and says it hopes to have all of its 115 A380s flying again by early 2022.

"The A380 has defined us," Emirates President Sir Tim Clark says of the planned superjumbo surge. "As demand returns, and given the slot availability at prime hubs, there will be a place for it. I’m hoping by April 2022, all our A380s will be flying again."

Also read: Flight of fancy? We reveal Singapore Airlines' unused Airbus A380 first class concepts

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 190

I know the theory about using jetstream etc helping with economising fuel consumption and how the 2d Mercator map of a 3D world can cause distortion of a direct straight route but looking at the route map as shown above, it thought the curvature of the route supposedly taken by the airplane is far more distorted than expected nor did I expect Greenland to have A380 handling capabilities to refuel.

Anyone can hazard to provide an explanation?

15 Aug 2018

Total posts 22

That is the great circle route - the shortest route between the two places. Try it with a piece of string on a globe!

No need to land in Greenland. 

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 190

@ Ted Striker

Hadn’t own a globe in years, the last one is one of those metal reject shop kinda quality with USSR on it.

I used Wikipedia’s Azimuthal equidistant projection map centred around the North Pole and I was right is that there was more curvature and deviation to the north than expected for a straight route; which would have missed Norway, cross directly over Iceland and more southern parts of Greenland.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Oct 2019

Total posts 10

 I agree with Russell that it is weird that you took this particular point out of the article.

But, with regards to the route they took, it is not necessarily the shortest route that is fastest. A straight line would have been a tad further south but they would have known that there were more favourable winds on the route they took.

Thus they tracked to the north, if you look at BAs flights from lhr to lax and sfo you will see that they go very far north on occasion. There are also plenty of diversion points for a 4 engine aircraft that can comfortably fly on 3 engines.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 351

Seriously....that’s what you took from the article?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 351

Thats one very, VERY technical question for this forum.  

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1049

XWu that looks about right and kevlavik in Iceland would be emergency stop if necessary (an ex US airbase) and then there are few places in Canada if need be. The A380 certainly has the legs as I think Lufthansa did non stops to LA as well as Emirates with Dubai being a bit further.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1049

There’s also a US airbase in Thule in Greenland as well.

09 Jun 2017

Total posts 18

Every A380 Airline has been struggling with the operation of this aircraft for years. Covid has been the perfect reason for most operators to mothball or retire their fleets. Multiple unserviceability issues, huge infrastructure costs and low load factors are paramount. I have lost count of the delays I have experienced with this Aircraft. Once my flight was cancelled completely after 7 hours of waiting, then I was re routed on to Sydney with Qantas domestic then transferred to American Airlines 777 to LAX. I have no bias with aircraft manufacturers Boeing or Airbus. I have noticed many Airbus devotees that write a lot about terrible Boeing, when Airbus has many issues ongoing. Qantas has had great success with the 787 and hopefully will bring the A350-1000 on board making a very modern and reliable fleet.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 450

I feel that this has more to do with justifying redundancies of some of the most expensive crews, than when travel demand will recover.  

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 120

Unless I am reading this incorrectly, 6/12 remain in the old product?

If travel bounces back in line with Emirates expectations (end of 2022), QF will either have to fly a terrible old product around or not be able to service demand. Seems like a lose-lose situation. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 390

The demand won't all come back in one go, it will be gradual. Qantas has paused the A30 refurbs for the moment, but they will start again if/when there is a sign of an upturn. That should give them long enough to work out how many A380s they will need going forward, and refurb how many extra A380s they believe will be of use. I very much doubt that any of the old-config A380s will go back into service as they are - they will either be upgraded to the new config or retired.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 120

Thanks. Makes sense if QF have the option to delay the change to new config to a later point in time. Worst case would be if they can no longer do the change in a few years time and are stuck with half a fleet of OK aircraft and half a fleet of crap aircraft, especially in Business. 

07 Jan 2016

Total posts 29

It's great that Emirates are staying committed to the A380.   I suspect there will be plenty of discounted low-mileage 2nd-hand A380's available on the market for them to buy up.

03 Jan 2012

Total posts 97

I miss my First Class seat on Sydney to Dallas. Maybe never again?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2016

Total posts 27

... and we miss our Premium Economy & Business llikewise.  SYD - DFW  - SYD is great flight and we visit family in Houston at least three times per year.   We live in hope!

I do not want to be a passenger on the first flight of a A380 after it has stood for 3 years!!!!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 351

Dear Captain AJ, though I'm platinum with your competitor, as a loyal Australian I'd be happy to fly First Class on a maiden voyage of your A380s when they come out of mothballs.  

Details of preferred champagne and canapes will be forwarded to you in due course.  I can be reached via email through this forum.  Sorted!!

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 66

The A380s entered Qantas's service with all fire trucks spraying. They slunk off with no one standing in farewell at fences at Mascot. With covid-19 rampaging in the UK and US, I for one will be staying put at home for the foreseeable future. I'll miss my jaunts and business trips to both countries, so I guess I'll not see the refurbs to the "super-jumbos". (Doubt they'll ever get a better name as did their Boeing predecessors - the Queens of the Sky).


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