Airbus will stop production of the A380 in 2021, but the president of superjumbo stalwart Emirates has already performed last rites on a jet that's clearly too large for the new norm of a cash-strapped airlines and a significantly smaller global travel market.
“We know the A380 is over" Emirates president Sir Tim Clark declared earlier this week, although for balance he also allowed that the Boeing 747 had similarly seen its day.
"But the A350 and the 787 will always have a place,” Clark told The National, positing a future that belongs to fuel-efficient twin-engine jets, at least where long-range flying and the global networks of hub-based airlines was concerned.
Emirates currently lists 115 Airbus A380s in its fleet, all of which are grounded, and a sweeping fleet review has moved the Airbus A350 (50 on order), Boeing 787-9 (30 on order) and Boeing 777X (126 on order) to centre-stage.
However, with a slow recovery ahead, Clark said the new jets "may not be ordered soon, they may have orders deferred and pushed back, but eventually they will come back, and they will be a better fit probably for global demand in the years post the pandemic."
“We have just got to accept that in the next year or two, perhaps a bit longer, demand for air travel is going to be tempered in many respects,” Clark said.
“What emerges from this will be in my view almost perhaps 20 or 30 per cent less than what we were experiencing prior to the coronavirus kicking in."
Clark agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic is an industry-changing 'black swan event'.
"If you go back to any of the major interventions, disruptions that the world has faced since the Second World War; if you took the aggregate of all of those, they wouldn’t be the equivalent to what has happened here. It’s hugely serious and it’s devastating for the business. I don’t see any way forward at the moment.”
The International Air Transport Association estimates the pandemic will cost airlines at least $490 billion this year in lost revenue, and will require over $300 billion in government aid to keep airlines from collapsing.
“Had the natural laws of supply and demand survival of the fittest worked, I think we would have seen the culling of many airlines, " Clark reflected. "I thought about 85 per cent would go bust had there been no state intervention."
"State intervention has kept that from happening and it has stopped some of the smaller carriers going out of existence. How long that will go on for I don’t know. I am still not optimistic about the survivability of quite a few carriers.”