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.
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.
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%."
But the standout feature of the superjumbo remained the spacious and stunningly-appointed 'Sanctuary' business class lounge on the 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.”