Qantas pauses A380 upgrades; entire international fleet under review

Some of Qantas' Airbus A380s, as well as its Boeing 747s, may not return to the skies when international travel resumes.

By Chris Chamberlin, May 5 2020
Qantas pauses A380 upgrades; entire international fleet under review

Qantas will launch a sweeping review of its entire international fleet to shape the airline around post-coronavirus travel demand, with some aircraft expected to be retired rather than returning to service.

That list is likely to include the iconic Boeing 747, which was already due to be stood down by the end of 2020, and could also encompass some of Qantas' 12-strong Airbus A380 superjumbo fleet.

“The Qantas of 2021 and 2022 will not be the Qantas of 2019,” predicted Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, who spoke to media this morning to present an update on how the airline is dealing with the ongoing impact of COVID-19. "We’re looking at the scope and scale of our businesses going forward."

In the short term, this will see Qantas continue its suspension of domestic and international flights until mid-year.

"We don’t know how long domestic and international travel restrictions will last or what demand will look like as they’re gradually lifted," Joyce reflected.

However, what's expected to be a very gradual recovery will mean rethinking the size and make-up of Qantas' extensive international fleet.

“We haven’t made any decisions,” Joyce added, explaining that the outcome of the review would “depend on when international markets open” back up, with the airline working through a variety of scenarios.

Fewer Airbus A380 superjumbos?

"There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back," Joyce says of the airline's flagship jets. "That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like.”

Being the largest aircraft in the Qantas fleet, the A380 superjumbo is the hardest to fill, and normally appears on busy flights between Australia and the United States, as well as to Singapore and London.

The challenge for Qantas is that “we don’t know when the big markets like the US and the UK, which use the A380s, will open, and when,” Joyce explains to Executive Traveller. “We are keeping our options open," he added.

Qantas has already refitted six of its 12 Airbus, replacing its business class Skybeds with the more passenger-pleasing Business Suites and adding two new inflight lounges.

One of the two new premium lounges in Qantas' upgraded Airbus A380s.
One of the two new premium lounges in Qantas' upgraded Airbus A380s.

Browse: See what's new in Qantas' upgraded Airbus A380

But plans to refurbish the remaining six jets have been halted to free up cash in the short term, and reduce what could prove to be unnecessary spend over a longer period, until it’s clear how many A380s will be needed going forward.

Joyce also confirmed that ambitious plans for non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London, Paris and New York have been put on ice, along with an order for the Airbus A350-1000 jets which would have tackled the marathon 18-20 hour journeys.

Airbus planned to fit the Project Sunrise A350s with an extra fuel tank to deliver globe-striding range.
Airbus planned to fit the Project Sunrise A350s with an extra fuel tank to deliver globe-striding range.

"We do think there is a huge potential for Project Sunrise but the time is not right now, given the impact that COVID-19 has had on world travel," Joyce reflected. "But we do think there's still a good business case for it, and a good opportunity."

Read more: Coronavirus puts Qantas Project Sunrise on hold

Boeing 747s continue to face an uncertain future

Like some of Qantas’ A380s, its older Boeing 747 jumbos may not return to the skies at all, except to fly into retirement.

“There is a likelihood that they won’t come back,” says Joyce, while remaining optimistic that they could still fly again if conditions change.

“There’s still the possibility, if there was the demand for it, that the Boeing 747s could fly by the end of the year – but we are planning to retire them at the end of the year.”

Qantas also uses a mix of Airbus A330s, Boeing 787s and Boeing 737s on international routes, as well as QantasLink Dash 8-Q400s on the short hop from Cairns to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Also read: Qantas extends coronavirus flight cancellations to July

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

22 Jan 2018

Total posts 83

If VA goes bust, they'll need their A380s for Usa

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 122

Alternatively, virgin survives with a new owner who may or may not Abandon the virgin brand but stops all long haul flights

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Dec 2016

Total posts 43

I agree....if Virgin survives, it is unlikely they keep there wide body aircraft in operation id say.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 182

Or Virgin comes out the other side with financials restructured and debt reduced with a Long haul presence and it will be Qantas then making reductions.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 218

Considering UA had just closed their long-haul crew base in LAX, sparking rumours that UA may also exit SYD-LAX, and the continued questionable futures of 'both' DL and VA on the SYD-LAX route post COVID.

Throw in a year at most before the Australia and USA borders open to 'normal' civilians and there's the possibility that SYD-LAX may become a QF/AA monopoly (on a single A380) to meet the reduced demand on the SYD-LAX route for the foreseeable future, with the competition to LAX being the one stops on NZ, UA, AC, HA via their respective hubs.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 300

He is a very intelligent man and while I expect to see all 12 in the skies at some point, he would be crazy to rule anything in or out until a level of certainty returns to the market.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Oct 2019

Total posts 6

I wonder if they will tentatively schedule a last ever 747 points plane. Obviously with the knowledge that it probably won't happen but it would still be cool.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 438

Are there further 787 deliveries to occur later this year? I understood there were still a few to come under the plan to phase out the 747s, but have seen no mention in recent times.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jun 2011

Total posts 69

There are thee more on order, one of which is listed by Boeing as 'Parts Arriving'. Anyone's guess as to when they may be delivered at this point.

@GregXL

3 due by years end. All have been delayed indefinitely. Qantas won't except any new aircraft while almost the entire fleet are grounded.

"We don't know how long domestic and international travel restrictions will last or what demand will look like as they're gradually lifted,"


I'll give you the hot tip - as soon as I can fly anywhere, I will fly anywhere.

18 Nov 2015

Total posts 121

Me too -- I'll fly immediately.

I also did a completely unscientific survey of my Facebook friends - about 15 replied. All but two of them said they would be "just as comfortable" flying once flights resume. About half said they might fly a little less, but the other half said they would fly just as much as before COVID-19. Fairly good cross section of friends in Australia and the UK and the USA.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

I would fly tomorrow. Take simple precautions and let people travel if they want to. If you don't want to travel, don't stop those that do.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 278

Aabsolutely, LAX and LHR within 4 months, J-class on both.

QFP

22 Jan 2013

Total posts 56

What about Jetstar 787's? Seems they want be needed for some time.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 61

Sad decisions! Really hope that all 12 are still required and stay in the fleet!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 May 2017

Total posts 9

I think that domestic and international within the pacific region (New Zealand and Fiji) will open up a lot sooner than everyone thinks. Even with 1 million more people unemployed, there are still 12 million that are employed and have been cooped up at home for 6 weeks and will be desperate to go somewhere.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

Not just the Pacific Region. Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea should open up soon. They have excellent control.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 278

CChina is out. No way, Jose.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

Safer than the US or the UK!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 321

Is it though? I'm not convinced their reporting is accurate.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 278

Can someone who knows please confirm the 'hard cost' per seat per me, for a 747 to fly over 1,000 miles, compared to, say, Dreamliner. I'm curious to learn the cost of these plains.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 278

Per mile and planes!

23 Apr 2020

Total posts 6

Seems like early success in virus containment in Aus, NZ and limited parts of APAC could be an initial advantage for Qantas over other airlines. But then this might be a problem in the medium term as Europe, US, LATAM etc. end up opening up with acceptable infection rates but not complete control over the virus then Aus will likely not open to travel from those regions which might be a disadvantage to Qantas.

28 Nov 2018

Total posts 1

Does the much wider cabin of A380 present more opportunities for increased seat spacing while retaining some semblance of economics for airlines? - I personally would much rather fly A380 than 787 in current climate...just a whole lot more cubes of internal airspace to dilute any gremlins! (note this doesn't take into account any technical differences in air filtration etc - just flyer perception)

23 Apr 2020

Total posts 6

Personally I feel way more comfortable with the idea of flying in almost any jet than the I do with the prospect of using the metro / underground / subway in most major European and US cities.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Jan 2016

Total posts 74

While I want to travel for work and fun, I'll be staying home in the 'home office' for the foreseeable future.

Two things will get be flying international; vaccine and/or good antiviral. There is still a long way to go with this particular virus.

Maybe the smart people can work on a 'breathalyser' to detect COVID-19 using high end wafer based DNA sequencing or something similar that prospective passengers can use before jumping on a plane?


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