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."
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.”