Qatar Airways now expects its Airbus A380s to remain grounded until at least late 2022, increasing the chance that the superjumbos may never return to the post-Covid skies.
While earlier suggesting the A380s would be stood down until 2021, airline CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker has now stated "we don’t think we are going to operate our A380s for at least the next couple of years."
Speaking at the Airlines 2050 online conference overnight, Al Baker said “I don’t think that the A380 will get back into the skies in the short term" due to the superjumbo being simply too big and too costly to fly at a time when demand has sunk to record lows.
”There will not be that kind of demand (in the short term), and if demand starts to grow and people start deploying the A380, you will only be able to achieve [the reintroduction] by dumping the price [of tickets]," he added. "And once you dump the price, you become unsustainable."
Focus shifts to the Boeing 777X
Qatar Airways had expected to begin the retirement of its A380s across 2024-2028, but Al Baker has previously noted that the longer his ten-strong fleet of A380s stays on the ground, the less likely they are to come back into service – paving the way for the Boeing 777X to become Qatar Airways' next-generation flagship.
This could include a series of Boeing 777-9 jets with an all-new first class cabin to fill a gap in the high-end travel market once its Airbus A380s are retired.
However, the luxury cocoons would appear on “just a handful” of the Gulf carrier’s Boeing 777-9 aircraft, Qatar Airways Group CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker previously told Executive Traveller.
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 explained, “so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product.”
The Qatari flag-carrier has signed a firm order for 50 of Boeing’s debutante 777-9 model to replace the current Boeing 777-300ER workhorses, and ten Boeing 777-8s to substitute for the long-legged Boeing 777-200LRs – but those first class suites would not appear in the first tranche of Boeing 777-9 deliveries, which will be delayed until at least 2022 as part of a broader push-back on all new Airbus and Boeing jets.
“It will not be on the initial 777X because we want to have a product that is really very unique, so we need time to develop it.”
PREVIOUS [May 13, 2020] | Qatar Airways' flagship Airbus A380s will remain grounded until the second half of 2021 and may never return to the skies, as the Gulf carrier prepares to face the new reality of substantially reduced demand for air travel.
The Doha-based airline will downsize its 200-strong fleet by 25% during the drawn-out recovery period from the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, with the travel industry taking "around two to three years to get back to 2019 levels," airline CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker said on Monday.
“I think I would be very surprised if things will happen before 2023/2024," Al Baker reflected.
Al Baker has previously indicated that the airline's ten Airbus A380s would be retired from 2024, but the superjumbos could already have made their last flight.
"Qatar Airways is parking its 10 A380s and they will not return for at least a year, and maybe never," Al Baker said during a media briefing to discuss the airline's plans.
Qatar Airways took delivery of the first of ten Airbus A380s in September 2014, with a standout feature of the superjumbo being the spacious and stunningly-appointed 'Sanctuary' business class lounge on the upper deck.
They also feature the Oneworld member's only first class product: a set of eight open first class suites, which were arguably eclipsed less than four years later by the launch of the highly-regarded business class Qsuites.
Al Baker later confirmed that the A380s would not be upgraded with the new Qsuites, admitting in June 2019 at the Paris Air Show "we feel that the aircraft does not have very long future in Qatar Airways' fleet. We would think about retiring those aeroplanes on their 10th anniversary, unless something untoward happens and we need them."
Early design work on a modified version of the Qsuite designed to fit into the curved fuselage of the A380's upper deck was fed into the Qsuite 2.0 business class of Qatar Airways' Boeing 787-9 jets which are said to be substantially lighter, have lower partitions, and lack the ability to convert four middle suites into a 'quad'.