A380 flies again: Qatar to bring back the superjumbo from November

At least five of the Gulf carrier’s superjumbos will return to the skies this year as the airline ramps up capacity.

By David Flynn, September 29 2021
A380 flies again: Qatar to bring back the superjumbo from November
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.

With a quarter of Qatar's A350 fleet out of action, the superjumbo is set to soar again.
With a quarter of Qatar's A350 fleet out of action, the superjumbo is set to soar again.

“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.

As the superjumbo returns, so too does Qatar's first class offering.
As the superjumbo returns, so too does Qatar's first class offering.

“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.

The elegant upper deck lounge brings the swish to Qatar's superjumbo.
The elegant upper deck lounge brings the swish to Qatar's superjumbo.

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.

Also read: Qatar Airways launches ‘unbundled’ Business Lite fare

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.

This is phenomenal news, I think it makes QR the first airline to 'bring back' the A380, well after Emirates of course. Even if it's just five, and only short term as AAB says, the A380 is such a great flying experience, especially the QR A380, loved that lounge-bar area. Really hope Sydney gets to see one of these again!

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 509

This exclusive interview (as of 30 Sept 0700 AEST) did not state the reason for A350 being grounded by Qatar’s regulators. 

A quick search of ET’s archives did not show any articles featuring this news either.

According to other news sources, Qatar aviation authority grounded A350 due to concerns about "''accelerated fuselage degradation below the paint' in Aug 2021. Other operators did not report similar issues with their a350."

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

HI XWu – second par states the reason the A350s were grounded, "over claims of fuselage degradation." We didn't dive into more detail on that as it's not the story per se, and we didn't cover this when it as first reported as it's more of an aviation/industry story and we lean more towards the 'passenger experience'. 

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 509

@David

I read the article twice specifically looking for it but did not see the bit about the reason for A350 grounding, but I will defer to your assertion as above, and acknowledge I may have missed it when reading it at the stated time.

Although there are sensitivities about it (considering this is an exclusive interview), the grounding of certain series of planes of Skytrak’s best airline for 2021 in certainly a newsworthy item, especially if the reason for grounding is related potentially to safety issues with a particular type of aircraft.

Mind you, it is more interesting to note that no other airlines has (as far as I am aware) or aviation regulators had come out to express similar concerns in the 6 weeks since Qatar authorities’ decision. 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

It was probably easily overlooked as it was up in the second par as the reason for the A380s making their unexpected return, maybe people are so excited about this that the A350 bit gets skipped over LOL

"Although there are sensitivities about it (considering this is an exclusive interview), the grounding of certain series of planes of Skytrak’s best airline for 2021 in certainly a newsworthy item, especially if the reason for grounding is related potentially to safety issues with a particular type of aircraft."

There are no "sensitivities" on the issue relating to the interview – I could have asked the CEO more about this, and as you can see he did clearly reference it – but the grounding of those A350s, the claimed reasons and the back-and-forth on this between Qatar Airways and Airbus has been well covered in aviation / industry outlets, blogs etc, and (besides that it isn't really 'news') again, this isn't our area – we focus more on the experience for the passenger and premium traveller, which is one of our key points of difference. The people interested in the A350 issues and QR/Airbus claims tend to be interested in aviation and the industry per se, and there are plenty of outlets already covering this, so less need for us to dip our toe into those waters at the expense of doing what we do that's unique.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 107

@XWu. The grounding of the a350s also had me curious since this was the first I'd heard of it. Then to find out it was over "fuselage degradation" was a shock. Hope it's isolated and fixable as I much prefer QR's a350 (and a380) over the 777 and 787.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 653

Best news to come out of Qatar for a while.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1021

AAB is nothing if not enigmatic.  His corporate strategy seems to change depending on the mood he wakes up with each day.  It must be fun working for him.....

Good to see the A380s coming back though.  I do feel that if international travel does recover, it is still unbeatable when it comes to uplift out of busy hubs as well as providing the best pax experience across all classes.

29 Sep 2021

Total posts 24

if AAB can't use some of their A350s, then A380s next best thing.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 711

A pipe dream of mine is that VA does a partnership with Qatar, rather than pulling out the QF card I could use the VA card.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 362

Totally unrealistic, can't see that happening at all. VA already has its Etihad partnership so this is the card VA will play.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 711

@QFP1 Thats why it's a pipe dream but Bain is about dollars and Qatar is about splashing out dollars 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 362

Fingers crossed for Sydney but I doubt it, with only five A380s to start with, a daily SYD-DOH would be a big call on that small fleet. London makes a lot of sense of course. Anyway, great news to start the day, great to see more good news hitting these days, thanks ET for the rays of sunshine!

QFF

19 Sep 2013

Total posts 181

This is fantastic news! Love flying with Qatar and love flying in the 380, but haven’t as yet sampled the Q suites.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 362

The A380 doesn't have the Qsuites, they have an older business class seat but it's still lie-flat 1-2-1 and pretty good, but the inflight lounge is what makes this really special.

QFF

19 Sep 2013

Total posts 181

Wish that I had lingered in the lounge a bit longer on my last Qatar 380 flight. The 380 J seats are ok, similar to their 787 seats. Still prefer the Cathay version though.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 74

Nothing wrong with QRs 'older' business class. Love it and would fly it any day on the 380...

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 37

This fits in perfectly with the announcement very recently that Qatar had taken an impairment over their A380's.  As indicated by others, it's an accounting term, in this case I would expect to write down the book value of the aircraft.  This is exactly what Qantas had previously done with their A380's. By significantly reducing the book value, the on-going capital cost that has to be absorbed per month as part of the cost of owning the plane,  whether it be depreciation or amortization via internal lease costs is substantially less.  As aircraft operating costs are made up of a variety of expenses, the bulk of which are the capital cost as noted above, operating costs, (fuel, personnel, maintenance) and landing charges, by reducing one item significantly, it will make the aircraft more financially viable.  

All I need now is for them to dump their unbundled business class fare and we'll be back.......  

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 175

Fantastic news but i've never known an airline CEO to make so many unsubstantiated and ironic comments:

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.

Yes, because most airlines didn't 'fire' pilots.  They furloughed them, offered unpaid leave, Voluntary redundancy, moved to alternative roles temporarily etc.

I mean trying to take credit for offering the same package to re-hire people you've sacked WOW.

29 Sep 2021

Total posts 24

many airline pilots are working as pilots, for less than than were in 2019. Many pilots aren't working as pilots at all. Heard that many B777 pilots will work for nothing to keep their currency.

17 Sep 2021

Total posts 2

With AAB's recent history he'll no doubt change his mind again next week.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on A380 flies again: Qatar to bring back the superjumbo from November