Qantas plans to see six Airbus A380s return to the skies by the end of 2023 as demand for international travel – both from outbound Australians and inbound overseas visitors – rebuilds to approach pre-COVID levels.
While the airline will offer voluntary redundancy to cabin crew of its international Airbus A380 and Airbus A330 jets, enough pilots of the flagship superjumbos will remain on deck and ready for a rapid restart of six A380s, according to Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.
"The A380 guys go through continuous training at the moment, and there is a government support package that’s there to retain those skills," Joyce told Executive Traveller following this morning's market update in which the airline flagged a cumulative $16 billion hit from the impact of the pandemic.
"With early retirement and people taking leave without pay, we actually have scale to crew six of the aircraft," Joyce said,
"If they do come back in when we expect them, at the end of 2023, we'll activate the first six aircraft very rapidly because we’ll have the pilots to do it."
"Half the aircraft have been reconfigured with brand new product – there's an aircraft that has plastic on brand new seats that came directly from Germany into the Mojave Desert" for storage, Joyce recounted.
"We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on those new seats, it's sitting there in there desert waiting to be operated again, and we think there’ll be huge demand for them when we get back."
Superjumbos as cash cows
Joyce reaffirmed his desire to see all 12 of the double-decker jets back in the air, saying that once the first six were reactivated, "it doesn’t take that long to get the other six up and running."
"Our intent is still to bring all those aircraft back when demand fully recovers, because there will be really strong demand for those aircraft on some key routes."
As previously reported, the superjumbos could become 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 Vanessa Hudson revealed to Executive Traveller in February 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."
Until then, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners will take over former A380 routes such as the Kangaroo Route from Sydney to London via Singapore, Sydney to Los Angeles and Sydney to Dallas/Fort Worth.
In the meantime, the Boeing 787 will continue to serve as Qantas' flagship, and deliver a financial assist through the relatively large premium cabin – 42 seats in business class and 28 in premium economy, out of a total of 236 seats.
"We have luckily enough been replacing the bigger aircraft with the 787," Joyce remarked at an online CAPA Live forum in April 2021, "and the 787 is such a good aircraft. It can replace entire A380s, 747s in terms of range (and) costs are even better than an A380."