As nobody is able to predict the future, especially at these times, we can all have an educted guess.
So thats what I will be doing here.
With more and more aircraft fleets retiring lately, an aircraft that has always been a bit of a niche product has become especially vulnerable. Whilst the aircraft is one of the most economical out there, this is only the case if the aircraft is full. With air passenger numbers predicted to be down until at least 2023, the likelyhood of the aircraft running at full capacity is slim. Therefore, the aircraft will be too costly for the airlines retain.
I had previously looked at where the Airbus A380’s are in the world, and where they fly. Just a few months ago actually. With the current worldwide situation, that particular article became out of date pretty rapidly.
So here I will take an updated look at where they could be in the near future. As mentioned, I’m as good at predicting the future as anyone so these will mostly be my educated guesses. Although some airlines have made their intentions for the type clear already. In fact, three airlines have made announcements just this week.
With the type due to cease production in 2021 anyway, this could well be brought forward. The types largest customer, Emirates, are currently in negotiations to cancel 5 of the final 8 they have on order. However, as the aircraft are in production, Airbus are pushing back.
But what about the other airlines?
Air France had already started their retirement process of their 10 aircraft before the COVID19 outbreak. The initial plan was to have the fleet retired by 2022. However the airline announced earlier in the week that the type would not return to service.
I can see the logic. This year is wiped out, no matter how you look at it. Next year will also be slow, so the airline can use their fleet of smaller Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 aircraft far more efficiently. Why pay the bills for a further two years on something that will only cost you anyway?
All Nippon Airways will likely take delivery of the final A380 produced. At least if Emirates get their way. Therefore, as far as retirement goes, it’s highly unlikely that they will be getting rid of their aircraft in the near future. As it stands, the two aircraft they have in service are less than 2 years old. Although they had their arm twisted into taking the aircraft somewhat following their purchase of 20% of Skymark Airlines.
Whilst All Nippon have been quite vocal about the A380 not fitting into their fleet, it’s hard to see them disposing of such a new addition to their fleet.
Asiana have been mostly quiet regarding thier fleet plans. However, one sign that the A380 will remain in their fleet for the next few years is that they are keeping their pilots in currency. And in a fairly novel way.
Piltos have to make a certain number of takoffs and landings in 90 dayds to remain current. Ordinarily, Asiana would utilise Thai Airways A380 simulators, which would count towards their currency. However, with the restrictions entering Thailand, this isn’t an option. Asiana had looked at using the simulators that Korean Air own, but they’re fully booked keeping their own crew in currcency.
So instead, Asiana are making ghost flights from Seoul. Flying an empty aircraft in a pattern and then landing back at the same airport in order to maintain their pilots recency.
There had been some doubt thrown into the future of the British Airways fleet. However, over the past few days, one aircraft positioned from London Heathrow to Manila for scheduled heavy maintenence.
This doesn’t sound like much, but it means a lot. Why carry out very costly maintenence on an aircraft you had no intention of utilising again?
Another saving grace is the airlines home base. Ordinarily, London Heathrow is heavily slot retricted. Meaning British Airways gets more bang for its buck using larger aircraft on those limited slots. Going forward, this could be less of an issue.
However, before the reduction in flights, British Airways sent their A380’s on routes that had a couple of flights at least. Going forward, the aircraft could prove useful in consolidating routes. Rather than send an A380, 787 and 747 to Los Angeles every day, they could send a single A380. Likewise for Miami. Ditch the Boeing 747 flight and use a single A380.
I’ll admit that China Southern is an airline that I dont know too much about. However, they appear to be one of the few, if only airlines still utilising their A380 fleet to any great degree. Including (I believe) the only A380 currently operating into London Heathrow on a semi regular basis.
Who knows! There have been a lot of conflicting reports coming from the airline over the past weeks.
Initially, their CEO Tim Clark said that “The A380 is over”. It was then reported that the airline cout retire at least 46 of the type.
And finally, Tim Clark said to the FT that all of the airlines aircraft will return to service – although not immediately.
So who knows! My personal opinion is that the A380 will still fly for Emirates into the near future at the very least. The type makes up roughly half of their fleet, so it would be a VERY drastic reduction for them all to go.
Moving a few miles further South in the UAE and the picture isn’t quite as rosy. Etihad is reportly looking at retiring their Airbus A380 fleet according to Reuters.
The airline has been struggling for a while, following some poor investments – notably the now failed Air Berlin and the constant money hole that is Alitalia.
As a side note, the airline also looks unlikely to enter the Airbus A350 into service, despite having already taken delivery of 5. Those aircraft are currently stored in France and have been since 2019.
Currently the only airline to operate a second hand Airbus A380. As such, running costs will probably be a lot lower for them. As such, I can see their Airbus A380 being more of a cash earner for them. If airlines need a high capacity aircraft for a short period, HiFly is where they will look…
As mentioned in the Asiana section, Korean Air is heavily utilising their flight simulators to keep their pilots current. Therefore I can’t see any reduction of their fleet for the time being. So far they have reamined somewhat silent on their plans, so it’s a little difficult to predict what could happen with any certainty.
One airline that has made its plans known however, is Lufthansa. The airline only recently started operating the A380 from its munich hub. Going forward, this will be the sole base for the type. As such, half of their A380’s are surplus to requirements and will likely not fly for the airline again.
Weren’t they supposed to be gone years ago?! Since becoming the flagship of their fleet, the Malaysia Airlines A380 has been relegated to somewhat of an also ran. These days operating limited scheduled routes and Hajj charters.
Therefore it’s best to take a wait and see approach for the future of this one. Again, like many Asian carriers here, Malaysia Airlines have yet to make any announcement regarding their fleet going forward.
I think its safe to say that Qantas underestimated things somewhat. At the beginning of March, group CEO Allan Joyce seemed to want to take an all at once approach to the situation. Therefore avoiding a “piecemeal approach” as he called it at the time. Well, that changed and the inital plan went out the window.
Going forward, the plan is for the airline to keep their 6 recently refurbished A380’s in service. Where as the 6 that have yet to get a refit will remian grounded. Interestingly, it doesn’t give a timeframe on this. Permanently? 6 months? A year? Wait and see.
Having a CEO that is very keen to make himself heard at every opportunity, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been anything too formal from Qatar Airways as of yet.
The A380 has been a bit of an oddball in the fleet for the past few years. The only aircraft to offer a bespoke First Class cabin, it also offers the previous generation business class seat.
Previously, the airline announced that the type wouldn’t fly beyond 2024. The most recent update given was that Qatar Airways wouldn’t return the type to service before mid-2021 – if at all. But it was all a bit sketchy to say the least.
Yet another Asian carrier that has remained a little tight lipped on the future of their A380.
Although that’s likely because there is nothing for them to announce on that front. Singapore Airlines was the launch customer for the type in 2007. Since then, the type has been very much the flagship of their fleet. Whilst 5 aircraft have left the airline, they have been replaced with newer builds. So the number has remained at 19 in service throughout.
The airline has previously announced that the Boeing 777-200ER and Airbus A330 would be leaving the fleet. So it can be assumed that the A380 will continue to fly in Singapore Airlines colours for the time beaing at least.
Following Thai Airways entering bankruptcy earlier this week, who knows what kind of fleet they will operate in the future.
It has been mentioned that the airline could get rid of their entire Boeing 787 fleet going forward. Whether there are any legs in this or it’s just internet rumour remains to be seen.
As the current situation with the airline is very fresh, it’s almost impossible to predict the future for this one. Will they massively downsize and focus on Asia – much like Malaysia Airlines has? Or will they seek to retain much of their route structure? Operating a fleet of older Boeing 747’s, one would assume that they would be the first on the chopping block for the airline.
But as I said, who knows!