The once-spurned A380 returns to the skies as travel roars back

The superjumbo sees an unexpected new lease of life in response to surging demand for international flights.

By Bloomberg News, June 22 2022
The once-spurned A380 returns to the skies as travel roars back

Written off as an over-sized anachronism when Covid-19 upended aviation, the world’s largest passenger plane is enjoying an unlikely revival to handle an overwhelming rebound in air travel.

Many airlines struggled to see a future for their enormous Airbus SE A380s when the pandemic grounded fleets in early 2020.

Qantas Airways parked its 12 double-deckers in the Californian desert, saying they wouldn’t be needed for at least three years, while Etihad Airways said it’s not clear if its 10 superjumbos will ever fly again.

But this year’s sudden travel recovery has given the cavernous jets – often seating more than 500 people – a new lease of life. They have become the long-range jumbo of choice for airlines from the UK to the Gulf and Australia as passenger volumes stretch aviation workforces that were depleted during the crisis.

By the end of 2022, monthly A380 flights will be almost 60% of pre-Covid totals, Cirium data show, defying the jet’s doubters. British Airways will operate more A380 flights by the end of the year than it did before Covid-19.

As international travel returns, the A380’s carrying ability is validating  at least for now  the massive bet by its No. 1 buyer Emirates Group of Dubai and proving useful for carriers such as Qantas that didn’t permanently turn their backs on the giant plane.

Malaysia Airlines, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM are among carriers selling or phasing out their fleets.

In June 2020, as Covid-19 swept across around the world, airlines worldwide operated just 43 passenger flights using A380s. The rollout of vaccinations, which allowed governments to peel back border controls, has since changed the picture.

This month, there are almost 4,000 scheduled services using the A380, and about 6,000 planned for January 2023, according to Cirium. Superjumbo services at Singapore Airlines, which turned one of the jets into a restaurant during the pandemic, will be almost back to normal by the end of 2022, the data show.

Limited appeal?

The A380’s appeal to airlines has always been limited. It found no buyers in the US, Latin America or Africa, for instance. Should the current surge in travel demand fade and oil prices stay elevated, carriers like British Airways may struggle to justify running partially full, four-engined A380s. The arrival of newer, fuel-efficient aircraft would once again pose an existential threat to the superjumbo.

Still, the A380’s value to airlines is likely to extend beyond the current surge, said John Grant, chief analyst at aviation data provider OAG. That’s partly because the small group of carriers flying the plane are either financially committed to the jet or don’t have an immediate alternative, he said.

“I think it has a future for some carriers,” said Grant. “Airlines may well be hoping – or praying – that in 18 months’ time the price of oil will be lower and the A380 will be an ideal aircraft.”

The A380 made its first flight in 2005 and won over passengers with its audacious scale – its wingspan is wider than a soccer pitch. Ultimately, though, airlines were turned off by its high operating costs.

Airbus sold just 251 of the planes and the last delivery, to Emirates, was made in November 2021. The aircraft remains a polarizing force. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has described the A380 as the airline’s “biggest mistake.”

Air France-KLM’s French arm is happy to have pulled its 10 A380s from service in 2020, two years earlier than initially planned, avoiding a refurbishment bill of about €400 million, Anne Rigail, who heads the division, said in Paris Thursday.

“The costs were so high that it was in our interest to move to new-generation planes that are more fuel efficient,” she said. “The A380s were put on the most important routes but were pretty complicated to fill.”

Not everyone sees it that way. Qantas has already put three of it planes back in service and plans to have half the fleet in the air by the end of 2022 for long-haul routes including the flagship Sydney-London service. Ten refitted Qantas A380s are due to return to the skies by early 2024.

Emirates, which operates more than 100 A380s, is retrofitting many of them with premium-economy seats, a class that’s proving popular with leisure travelers with money to burn as the pandemic fades.

South Korea’s Asiana Airlines is temporarily deploying two A380s on flights to Los Angeles and Bangkok to provide more seats ahead of the northern hemisphere’s summer holiday season.

And even unwanted A380s will mostly avoid the scrapyard for now, with France’s Chateauroux airport, about 250 kilometers south of Paris, inaugurating a giant hanger designed to house the double-deckers at the start of next month.

However, rather than leaving the aircraft to languish in a hangar, some of its super-fans have more creative ideas in mind.

Earlier this year, former-Airbus aeronautical engineer Frédéric Deleuze revealed his goal to convert one of the superjumbos into a three star plus’ hotel and restaurant, with a possible opening as early as 2024. 

To be built in the French city of Toulouse, hometown of Airbus, the quirky hotel will be located in the northern section of Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, close to the city’s Aeroscopia aviation museum and the MEETT Toulouse Exhibition and Convention Centre. 

Additional reporting by Chris Ashton.

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 349

Emirates President Tim Clark, only this week said the current largest aircraft being manufactured won't be big enough for slot constrained airports like Heathrow, LAX, Sydney etc, once the growth tradjectroy we were on prior to covid, is back to those levels in the coming years.

He is encouraging airlines to look at options.

Personally, I love this aircraft for its passenger comforts and space.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1103

It is interesting to see the renaissance of the A380.  They do not work on all routes but remain a great choice on busy routes between global hubs such as DXB-LHR or SYD-LAX.  It is one aircraft that consistently offers a great experience for pax in all 4 classes.  It is generally quiet, has plenty of toilets and its dual decks can mean there are special places for those in premium cabins such as bars etc.

Originally airlines like Qatar and Qantas were giving indications that the A380 may never return but it has.  Even Lufthansa is now considering bring some of their A380s back.  

Malaysia Airlines is one airline that will never bring the A380 back but they had parked their fleet pre-COVID.  Their aircraft are incredibly lightly used and would make a great bargain purchase for an airline that now saw the A380 as a cheap way to add real long-haul capacity.

26 Mar 2020

Total posts 48

The world and market is fluid and the enviroments always changes - if there is enough demand then its not impossible for Airbus to revamp the A380 back into production 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jun 2014

Total posts 18

Lets not forget that currently in Victorville, one of the Qantas A380s is being cut up for spares with another one for the block once the first is completed.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Jul 2017

Total posts 18

I love flying on the A380 would be great to see it back on the SYD-DFW route before too long!

04 Dec 2017

Total posts 71

The only way to fly. Full stop.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 118

No matter your view, I feel international long haul is the domain of the A380 and 747 due to their versatility and comfort. Yes the 747 has been retired - Pity as the 748 was a vastly underutilized aircraft, and the A380, the same. Yes airlines look at the bottom line and are happy to squash passengers (all classes) into their 787's and A350's for their 12 - 18 hr flights to increase profits while decreasing the flying experience, but when it comes to customer comfort the big birds are the way to go! We moved on from the 707's and DC8's in the 60's and 70's and now we are returning. Progress, maybe not, but profits and bottom lines, yes! 

Continue to enjoy the ever disappearing leg and shoulder room - QF 787 Premium Economy is a good example! Who of us  would rather travel long haul on a 787/A350 or the larger 747/A380 and pay the extra percentage to cover the increased operational cost for the experience. I know I would, but we all know the airlines have their financial focus.


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