Executive Traveller exclusive
Qatar Airways’ Airbus A380s will fly again, and sooner than even its CEO expected, with the superjumbos set to take wing in early November 2021.
Five of the Gulf carrier’s A380s will initially come out of mothballs as a stop-gap measure to help the airline cope with increasing demand while 13 of its Airbus A350 jets remain grounded over claims of fuselage degradation.
However, the entire ten-strong fleet could be back in the air in 2022 as the airline scrambles to match its long-haul capacity to resurgent passenger demand.
“I think by early November we'll be starting to fly the A380s again” revealed Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker in an exclusive interview with Executive Traveller.
“At the moment we are looking at flying five, but we may have to fly all ten.”
Qatar Airways had already decided to retire half of its A380 fleet, with the remainder also set to be scuppered, and the dramatic turn-about comes days after the airline took a US$2.3bn write-down on the value of its A380s and some Airbus A330s.
“We grounded the A380s at the beginning of the pandemic, and we never wanted to fly them again,” Al Baker admits, well aware that only five months ago he described his purchase of the superjumbos as “the biggest mistake” in the airline's history, sledging the superjumbo’s thirst for fuel and environmental impact.
At the time, he said “I don't think there is a market for that airplane in the foreseeable future.”
But the foreseeable future didn’t allow for a quarter of Qatar’s workhorse A350 fleet to be stood down by the country’s civil aviation authority, leaving Al Baker with an almost 4,000-seat hole in the airline’s passenger capacity.
“Unfortunately, with the issues we are having with the Airbus A350s that have been grounded by our regulator, we have no alternative…but to fly the A380s," he told Executive Traveller.
“We have to find capacity for our passengers who need airlines to take them to their loved ones for Christmas.”
With 517 seats, the first five superjumbos will not only recover more than half of the A350 shortfall at a time when every seat counts, but will include almost twice as many economy seats for price-conscious passengers.
However, the superjumbo also sees the return of Qatar’s first class cabin – with eight spacious open suites perched at the front of the lower deck – along with the elegant upper deck lounge reserved for business and first class flyers.
In addition, Qatar Airways is spooling up more of its Airbus A330s – jets which were also being put out to pasture – and is looking to hire additional Boeing 777 pilots from British Airways for at least the next six months.
The process of rebooting the A380s is already underway, with the airline preparing a rigourous system of engineering checks as well as rehiring many A380 pilots who were laid off in the early days of the pandemic.
“We are doing what no other airline has done – we will give them the same salary package that they had when they left,” Al Baker says.
“We also need to bring the pilots back to currency because they have not been flying for a year and a half.”
Those pilots will regain their A380 wings through both flight simulator sessions and time spent in the air – a process Al Baker says will see the A380s flying without passengers “for nearly two, three weeks” while the crew rebuild their hours behind the stick.
While Al Baker didn’t reveal which destinations would once again see the double-decker jet, Executive Traveller understands the schedule will be loaded into the GDS booking systems used by travel agents in the first week of October.