Qatar Airways' flagship Airbus A380s will remain grounded until the second half of 2021 and may never return to the skies, as the Gulf carrier prepares to face the new reality of substantially reduced demand for air travel.
The Doha-based airline will downsize its 200-strong fleet by 25% during the drawn-out recovery period from the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, with the travel industry taking "around two to three years to get back to 2019 levels," airline CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker said on Monday.
“I think I would be very surprised if things will happen before 2023/2024," Al Baker reflected.
Al Baker has previously indicated that the airline's ten Airbus A380s would be retired from 2024, but the superjumbos could already have made their last flight.
"Qatar Airways is parking its 10 A380s and they will not return for at least a year, and maybe never," Al Baker said during a media briefing to discuss the airline's plans.
Qatar Airways took delivery of the first of ten Airbus A380s in September 2014, with a standout feature of the superjumbo being the spacious and stunningly-appointed 'Sanctuary' business class lounge on the upper deck.
They also feature the Oneworld member's only first class product: a set of eight open first class suites, which were arguably eclipsed less than four years later by the launch of the highly-regarded business class Qsuites.
Al Baker later confirmed that the A380s would not be upgraded with the new Qsuites, admitting in June 2019 at the Paris Air Show "we feel that the aircraft does not have very long future in Qatar Airways' fleet. We would think about retiring those aeroplanes on their 10th anniversary, unless something untoward happens and we need them."
Early design work on a modified version of the Qsuite designed to fit into the curved fuselage of the A380's upper deck was fed into the Qsuite 2.0 business class of Qatar Airways' Boeing 787-9 jets which are said to be substantially lighter, have lower partitions, and lack the ability to convert four middle suites into a 'quad'.