The trend of retiring A380s is continuing. Air France announced yesterday that they planned to retire their remaining A380s by the end of 2022. The airline’s announcement continues a pattern of several airlines setting timelines for phasing out their A380 fleets.
At one point, Air France had ten A380s. It now has seven. Two are leased and five are owned by the airline. The retirement decision was made at an Air France board meeting yesterday, July 30, 2019.
In a media statement, AIr France cited a competitive operating environment, high fuel costs, high CO2 emissions, high maintenance costs, and the need for cabin refurbishments as reasons which drove the decision.
In 2018, Air France said it would retire half of its A380 fleet by 2021. At the time, there were no firm plans to retire the remaining A380s. Rumours have persisted about the fate of the remaining A380s. Yesterday’s announcement draws a line in the sand for the A380 at Air France.
It’s the end of an era.
Air France and the A380
Air France has been flying the A380 since 2009. The inaugural service was the flagship Paris-JFK service on October 30, 2009.
Over the years, the Air France A380 has flown into Abidjan, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, New York, Shanghai, San Francisco and Washington DC.
Air France offers a four-class cabin seating a total of 516 passengers on its A380. That includes 9 seats in La Premiere, 80 seats in business class, 38 seats in premium economy, and 389 seats in the economy cabin.
Whilst life is doubtless sweet when relaxing in La Premiere, Air France’s A380 business class configuration of 2-2-2 is dated and arguably, does not meet the expectations of business class travellers in 2019.
The merits or otherwise of what makes a good business class product can be subjective, but the cabin has come in for some consistent criticism on Seat Guru, including this salient posting:
“Low-quality business cabin that is a generation (or two behind the competition). At least I had a middle aisle seat. Avoid the A380 Air France business cabin if possible and try to fly a route with their 777 newer business cabin. These are almost a generation behind by now as well, but much better than the A380 upper deck.”
With premium customers starting to prefer other aircraft types, it’s no surprise that Air France is drawing a line under its use of the A380.
Fleet renewal at Air France
Air France is busy revitalising its fleet. Also announced yesterday was a firm order of 60 A220-300 aircraft. Air France also has options and purchase rights for an additional 60 A220s. The announcement helps cement a stellar year of A220 sales for Airbus and comes when the manufacturer is also touring the plane through Asia.
Air France intends to use the A220 to replace its A318s and A319s on short and medium European flights.
No announcements have been made on what aircraft will replace the A380s after 2022. Air France is currently operating nine Boeing 787s, 68 Boeing 777s, 15 A330s and five A340s. It has 28 A350s on order.
While some airlines plane to keep the A380 flying for at least another decade, in another ten or fifteen years it will be an increasingly rare bird.
The A380 was a grand plane. History might record it as a grand folly. With the trend towards smaller, more efficient and more nimble aircraft, it might be a while before we see another commercial plane the size of the A380 roll off the production line.