The Airbus A380: Now A Scarce Sight In Our Skies

The corona-crisis has effectively pushed the Airbus A380 out of the skies. On Wednesday morning, only nine of the aircraft were airborne. As the UAE halts all passenger traffic, it effectively grounds nearly half of the world’s A380s, which are operated by Emirates. 

Emirates Airbus A380
The UAE travel ban effectively grounds half the world’s A380s. Photo: Emirates

UAE ban effectively grounds half the world’s fleet

The Airbus A380 has become a rare sight on radar and runway these days. The hard-to-fill double-decker jet was the first aircraft to be grounded due to plummeting demand. If it is not grounded by choice as airlines scramble to adjust for the unprecedented decline in passenger demand, then it is parked by default as governments close borders to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

On Wednesday morning, two of the A380s in the sky belonged to Emirates. One from Sao Paulo to Dubai, another from Sydney to Dubai. Emirates owns 115 of the world’s 242 A380s. Emirates had previously grounded 28 of these, but as the UAE has now halted all passenger air travel from today, this effectively grounds almost half of all A380 aircraft in one sweep.

The other major carrier of the UAE, Etihad, had already made the decision to ground its A380s prior to the government’s traffic lock-down. The airline owns ten A380s that will, irrespective of the ban, be grounded at least through June 30th. The ban by the UAE’s Civil Aviation Authority completely prohibits all passenger flights, even for transit, and is set to last for two weeks, albeit “subject to renewal”.

Only nine A380s were flying on Wednesday morning. Photo: FlightRadar24

Plummeting demand and travel bans

Two of the A380s on the map were Qantas, flying from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth, and from London to Sydney respectively. Qantas had already taken the decision to ground eight of its A380s until mid-September. As all Qantas international flights will be canceled from the end of March for at least two months, soon the two from this morning will be also taken out of traffic.

Another was a China Southern on the Los Angeles to Guangzhou route. This is the only China Southern A380 (out of five) that is still operating. Yet another was a British Airways plane flying from Los Angeles to London. Five days ago, as reported by The Points Guy, BA was still operating ten out of its 12 A380 fleet. 

The remaining two were a Qatar Airways heading from Doha to London, and two Singapore Airlines from Zurich and Auckland. Transfer is still allowed through Qatar, even though entry is barred for all but Qatari nationals, so this route could potentially hold on to the A380 a little longer. Singapore may see more of its A380 grounded as Australia closes borders. 

Other airlines such as Lufthansa, Air France, Asiana, Korean Air and Malaysia Airlines have all grounded their entire fleets of A380s. 

Could corona mean early retirement for the superjumbo? Photo: Getty Images

The future for the A380 on the other side of corona?

Even prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and the unprecedented drop in demand across markets worldwide, airlines were having problems filling the A380s typical seating capacity of 525 passengers. 

The corona-crisis has allowed airlines to retire old aircraft earlier than planned. Mostly, this has been old aircraft, many of which were kept in use to make up for the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX. But the A380, albeit a much younger model than the others, could be pulled out of service for early retirement as airlines will need to rethink capacity, profitability, and agility on the other side of COVID-19.