Qatar Airways CEO: “the A380 was our biggest mistake”

It looks increasingly unlikely that Qatar Airways will fly its remaining superjumbos.

By David Flynn, May 27 2021
Qatar Airways CEO: “the A380 was our biggest mistake”

Qatar Airways could stand down its final five Airbus A380s without them ever returning to the skies, after outspoken CEO Akbar Al Baker described the purchase of ten superjumbos as "the biggest mistake" in the airline's 27-year history.

The Gulf carrier is intent on rectifying that mistake, with half of the A380 fleet already retired while a superjumbo-sized question mark remains hanging over the remainder: in May 2020 Al Baker admitted the A380s "will not return for at least a year, and maybe never."

Speaking overnight at a webinar hosted by aviation site Simple Flying, Al Baker declared "looking back, it was the biggest mistake we did, to purchase A380s."

"We have grounded the A380 simply because it is very fuel inefficient airplane... I don't think there is a market for that airplane in the foreseeable future.”

It's a noticeable shift in tone from September 2014 when, taking delivery of the airline's first superjumbo, Al Baker said "the arrival of the A380 opens a new chapter in the unparalleled, signature service we provide to travellers on board with Qatar Airways."

Qatar's A380 raised the bar on in-flight luxury for premium flyers.
Qatar's A380 raised the bar on in-flight luxury for premium flyers.

Read more: What we'll miss about Qatar Airways' elegant A380 lounge

Some things haven't changed, Al Baker now reflects.

"I know the passengers love it. It's a very quiet airplane, it's a very smart airplane, but the damage it does to the environment should be priority, and not the comfort."

"It was good when it had launched in 2002. But unfortunately, with the rising fuel price and the mistake in the design, we think it was a big mistake."

Al Baker was not pressed for specifics on that alleged "mistake in design", although he cited the A380's "operating costs" as one problem for airlines, along with his belief that "people who are very conscious about emissions will avoid travelling on an A380."

The era of the 'big twins'

Instead, as with many other airlines around the world, Qatar Airways is now reshaping its future fleet around modern fuel-efficient twin engine jets such as the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787, with the Boeing 777X also expected to enter the picture in 2022-2023.

As previously and exclusively reported by Executive Traveller, Qatar's Boeing 777-9 fleet will largely top out at business class with an evolved version of the airline's Qsuite, with an "exclusive" first class cabin under consideration for a handful of jets on premium routes such as London and Paris.

“We are studying the possibility of having a very exclusive first class cabin of just four seats, for example,” Al Baker revealed to Executive Traveller, 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.”

Read more: Qatar Airways plans "exclusive" Boeing 777X first class suites


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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 371

I suspect the reason he doesn’t like the A380 now, has less to do with the environmental impact and more to do with the financial impact. 

it's all about fuel prices & demand. If fuel price is lower enough the A380 can work. Surely some big airlines can hedge fuel at the right price now.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 340

I still LOVE the A380.. from a passenger perspective.. it’s an absolute dream to fly on!! 

So said so few had the vision needed to bring this amazing aircraft to its full potential!! 

07 Mar 2017

Total posts 53

Might be some problems with their yield management or routing operations as figures have it at least as good on fuel economy as the twins when loaded at capacity. And it's not as though Emirates were bleeding financially despite it being the majority of their fleet.

Of course if you load it at half full, or at similar pax numbers to a smaller aircraft, then that per person efficiency goes down like any aircraft does if not fully loaded.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

Nor does it help to have the majority of your closest (ME) regional neighbours impose a wide-ranging ban on overflights of their territory, forcing you to re-route your normal flight path(s) and incur significant additional fuel and time.

Maybe AAB forgot this ? Or is he just making poor excuses for a less than stellar back-office operation?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 362

Still the best airplane to fly on...period.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

09 Jun 2016

Total posts 17

"people who are very conscious about emissions will avoid travelling on an A380."

I'll bet that's under 1% of travelers

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 412

I'll definitely miss the amazing Qatar A380. Still had great business class seats even if it never got that promised Qsuite upgrade, but I could spend so much of the flight sitting at that lounge with a drink, a book, some nibbles from the bar or some plates from the menu.

27 May 2021

Total posts 1

consistency does not belong to Mr. Baker

29 Feb 2016

Total posts 27

Its actually Ok to change yr mind - as it was once said : "When the facts change, I change my mind. And you sir?" John Maynard Keynes..


09 May 2020

Total posts 562

Was Qatar prepared to be a major intercontinental airline without an A380 flagship in 2014 when the first A380 was delivered in 2007?

It's easy to have 20/20 vision in retrospect and certainly the massive shift in fare cost (including competition from LCCs) and fuel prices changed the profitability of operating the A380, but now that several international LCCs are being merged with full service carriers/owners and some LCCs are hanging by their threads, the remaining airlines operating their A380s may very well get a better deal from the airport slots (involving gates specially designed to deal with A380s) and perhaps we still get some flying in these planes for a few more years.

Let's hope customer preference for A380 will finally encourage airlines to schedule them in more routes to entice people back to flying long haul    


03 May 2013

Total posts 667

You simply can't help but fall in love with the A380 esp in premium cabins if you're a constant long and ultra long haul frequent flyer. The A380 is uncontested by way of pax experience and any who suggests otherwise is a novice. If Al Bakr had put in a first class that was as equally as great as his business class product he would have made a lot more money from the A380! The cabin was always empty, the seat was outdated the food was tarted up J class food and there wasn't anything special about the cabin/lavs etc as per the direct competition. Long live the A380.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2017

Total posts 30

Well, the choice is now clear.   It will be Emirates for me, as they still have the A380.    Qatar is very short sighted in disowning their A380's.   I am sure in time they will regret this decision, if they still want to continue longhaul to Australia.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2017

Total posts 30

The biggest mistake will be Qatar Airways getting rid of the A380.   Not acquiring them.    Passengers make the decision here Mr Baker, and they prefer the A380 on long-haul for comfort.    Not only this, but remember quad jets have much better redundancy than twin jets as we seen that very evident with the recent incident at Denver just months ago. 

Passengers can't make the decision to fly the A380 if the airline can't afford to fly them in the first place. As much as most passengers love the A380, those planes only make sense when they are nearly full of passengers, and right now almost no airline can hit those numbers which is why since March 2020 airlines have been dumping their A380s, either retiring them or in a few cases standing them down so they can bring them back when demand returns which is estimated to be 2024.

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