Qatar Airways to retire five A380s, and the rest remain in limbo

Qatar Airways joins the legion of carriers who see little future in the superjumbo.

By David Flynn, January 14 2021
Qatar Airways to retire five A380s, and the rest remain in limbo

Qatar Airways will retire five Airbus A380s – half of its fleet – with immediate effect, while a superjumbo-sized question mark remains hanging over the rest of the fleet.

The decision sees the Oneworld member join the list of airlines which have either completely scrapped their A380s (Air France, Lufthansa) or plan to operate a pared-back fleet in future (Singapore Airlines, and probably Qantas).

Qatar Airways' ten A380s have been grounded since March 2020, with airline CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker admitting in May 2020 that "they will not return for at least a year, and maybe never."

"Never" is now the operative word for five of those A380s, and it could well extend to all of them.

All of Qatar's A380s have been grounded since March 2020.
All of Qatar's A380s have been grounded since March 2020.

Speaking at a CAPA Live online event overnight, Al Baker said of the A380s "we have decided that we will not operate them for the foreseeable future, and even when we operate them we will only operate half the numbers we have."

Instead, Qatar's focus will shift to its single-deck Boeing 777 flagships plus the modern and more fuel-efficient Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

While Al Baker couched his decision in environmental terms – describing the A380 as "one of the worst aircraft when it comes to emissions that is flying today" – there's little doubt that the high cost of flying the double-decker jet in an era when it can't be filled with passengers adds an economic angle.

Plans to upgrade the A380s with the airline's Qsuites were scrapped years ago.
Plans to upgrade the A380s with the airline's Qsuites were scrapped years ago.

The clock has been ticking on Qatar's Airbus A380 fleet for months now, with Al Baker telling Executive Traveller in late 2020 "I'm going to retire my A380s on their 10th anniversary".

The Qatar Airways superjumbos arrived between September 2014 and April 2018, so "starting from the next four years, our first A380s will start going to the desert, because there is no point keeping these expensive gas guzzlers with very little return on our investment."

This timeline was behind Qatar's decision not to upgrade the A380s from their previous-generation business class seat to the latest Qsuite.

Once the pride of Qatar's fleet, the A380s were crowned with eight open first class suites, which Al Baker revealed to Executive Traveller "had a load factor of averaging never more than 55-60%."

Qatar's first class finale: the open suites of the Airbus A380.
Qatar's first class finale: the open suites of the Airbus A380.

But the standout feature of the superjumbo remained the spacious and stunningly-appointed 'Sanctuary' business class lounge on the upper deck.

The Sanctuary lounge on Qatar's Airbus A380 upper deck.
The Sanctuary lounge on Qatar's Airbus A380 upper deck.

The A380 remains the only Qatar Airways aircraft featuring first class, and Al Baker has repeatedly voiced his belief that demand for first class is shrinking, based both on the premium price tag and how the airline's Qsuites have narrowed the gap between first and business.

However, as previously reported, the airline is developing a first class cabin for its forthcoming Boeing 777X jets to fill a gap in the high-end travel market once its Airbus A380s are retired.

The luxury cocoons would appear on “just a handful” of the Gulf carrier’s Boeing 777-9 aircraft, Al Baker revealed to Executive Traveller in June 2020.

In turn, that first class sub-fleet would feature on only a few premium-heavy European routes.

“We are studying the possibility of having a very exclusive first class cabin of just four seats, for example,” Al Baker said, describing it as a deliberately “very niche product” aimed at well-heeled Qatari travellers.

“We have huge demand here in Qatar to two or three European destinations” such as London and Paris, Al Baker explains, “so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product.”

Also read: Qatar Airways' new Boeing 787-9 business class

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.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 560

Great, from an A380 to a 777; passenger friendly aircraft to cargo friendly aircraft.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 781

... and a much noisier one at that.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2019

Total posts 20

Sad to see the A380 fall from grace and into history so prematurely. It is a great plane for passengers. The next generation of fuel efficient engines came out just after it was released - i.e. 13% more efficient.   How different things could have been if these were available.

not sure I understand what is actually going to happen to all these A380s.

Long term storage if fuel gets cheaper ?

Obviously accountants have written down their value to almost zip.

Parts ? Who'll need A380 parts ?

Engines ? Are A380 engines used on any other aircraft ?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 111

They will just end up scrapped. Some early SQ 380’s have already been wrecked. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 576

Credibility here - as always - with AAB can regularly be a problem, IMHO.

To some, it is the height of hypocrisy that a company anchored inside a ME country that depends significantly on the process of extracting oil, refining it, depends on petro revenue for most of its GDP ...  and then revels in its status of one of the world's top 3 wealthiest nations can countenance such rubbish as an "A380 environmental" defence !!

If we believe AAB and his statement that the QR A380's are "one of the worst aircraft when it comes to emissions that is flying today", then what does it say about AAB's - and Qatar's senior management - ability to make coherent decisions for his airline? Yes, I understand that technology may change over time, but when you spend billions on fleet equipment and management, you tend to factor in a lifespan of of 15-20 years for owned frames. If you want to 'turn' over fleet more regularly, you tend to lease or have a mix of lease and own.

Sorry, but I just don't buy AAB's story on this. Qatar's loads globally have been consistently high and profitability / ROI on frames should well exceed his other ME competitors. 

QR's innovative approach to 'luxury' travel and the image it projects has eclipsed both Emirates (EK) and Etihad (EY) by a country mile. Clearly, EK is saddled with an enormous fleet of 110+ A380 frames all of which require debt financing and are currently producing little to no revenue. Similarly, EY floundered with it's "lets invest in every airline we see as being a possible revenue feeder" investment policy. QR is simply eating each of their lunches.

We've seen all sorts of wonderful (and weird) AAB stories including "QR will leave Oneworld" whilst on the other hand, we see direct ownership(s) in British Airways, Cathay Pacific and (ex-Oneworld and now bankrupt) LATAM.

Thinking of 'retiring' 5 of the 10 QR A380-800's? Previous experience has shown that both SYD and MEL can support a well-loaded daily A380-800 service. Let alone DOH-LHR / JFK and LAX services. So, will QR drop all it's other A380 destinations world-wide? I don't think so.

Bear in mind that fleet-planning involves assessing the demand (and growth), costs and revenue of seat numbers over the planned lifetime of the airframe. Smart carriers will also build in buffers for economic downturns and / or periods of excess and degraded demand. It''s part of the ROI analysis that a Board will demand.

Whist COVID is a once in a lifetime event, no-one fully or authoritatively KNOWS how the recovery will pan out. Ultimately, as the availability of vaccines increases and a pattern for travel slowly emerges, I would suggest that AAB will now move onto his next major topic ("gee, where are our B777-8/9s") and this idea of "uneconomic, worst performing" fleet will recede into the background and be forgotten.

There's a reason that - in some circles - he is known as "U-Turn Al". 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 172

Nice response, Kimshep, and accurate. As fas as AAB talks about 'huge demand' for his local passengers we assume he is talking about the 300,000 Qatari's out of a population of 2.8m, of course, ex-pats make up the rest.

'Paris or London, Darling?'

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 106

Just want to point out that gas rather than oil is the mainstay of Qatar's energy reserves. The country's national oil fields "are projected to be largely depleted by 2023" according to Wikipedia, although Qatar's "reserves of gas are the third-largest in the world." Of course no matter what the source of its income nobody argues that the Qatari Government helps underwrite QR, and it also has very low labour costs.

would have thought that any oil producing nation, would supply it's own airline with cheaper fuel ?

(especially when value of A380s is now very little)

Had need once many years ago to charter the JAT DC10 from EU to Australian.

They said, as long as stopped in Belgrade, where they had a deal from hell on fuel (Serbian oil ?), it would be much cheaper.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 158

I am really going to miss the QR A380. I thought the business class seating was fine, I had the odd upgrade to first class probably due to Qantas Platinum One status, but that lounge area was the best. I would always spend a few hours there on any flight.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 560

This may well be all hot air. I never once flew QR from SYD on the A380 where the ac wasn't at least 80% full. Simply put passengers love the A380 and if the route justifies it airlines will use it-profitably. All this hype over the 777x is premature. It wont ever be anywhere near as nice to fly in as the the A380/A350/787. It's old technology and old frame.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2018

Total posts 6

This was truly inevitable.The 787/A350 so much better.A380 lovely aircraft,very quiet inside,very comfortable to sleep in,but just way to big.Sad to see them go though.

hack - they are not too big they are too thirsty.

Qantas used to have mulTiple flights a day SYD/lax. If fuel burn wasn't an issue, Qantas could fly A380, 3 or 4 days a week & B787s 3-7 days a week.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2018

Total posts 6

I just found them(personal op only) just to big of an aircraft, was always a fan of the ‘work horse’:777.Went to LHR a couple of years back with SIA (CBR-Sin-LH) leg from Sin to LH the aircraft was half empty.Sure they are a great aircraft,but I try & avoid if @ all possible.

hack

we used to joke, when there was some talk of an all economy A380 with 800-1000 seats. Land at midday, actually get off aircraft at 2pm.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2018

Total posts 6

Very good!Thank god I never traveled in economy on one of them!I will have to remember that one.(my brother in law would see the funny side of that one,he is a retired RAAK pilot..Flys Heli’s very occasionally.

IIRC airbus were looking at one stage, at increasing exit limit on A380 from 800 & something to 1000.


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