What Will Happen To Air France’s First Retired Airbus A380?

Air France has retired its first A380 from its fleet. This is the first of many retirements as the airline phases out the aircraft completely by 2022. This aircraft, in particular, is a brother of the Hi Fly A380 and it has lead to much speculation of where that aircraft might be going.

Air France A380
Time is running out to fly the A380 in Air France livery. Photo: James Rowson via Wikipedia

What are the details?

Just yesterday morning after a flight from Johannesburg to Paris, Air France retired the A380. The aircraft was then returned to the lessor who flew it all the way to Malta. Once the aircraft landed, it was taken to a hanger to be repainted and all the Air France livery stripped from the airframe.

“The current competitive environment limits the markets in which the A380 can profitably operate. With four engines, the A380 consumes 20-25% more fuel per seat than new generation long-haul aircraft and therefore emits more CO2.

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“Increasing aircraft maintenance costs, as well as necessary cabin refurbishments to meet customer expectations reduce the economic attractiveness of Air France’s A380s even further. Keeping this aircraft in the fleet would involve significant costs, while the aircraft program was suspended by Airbus earlier in 2019.” – Air France press statement

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The aircraft’s tail number is F-HPJB and it served with Air France for 10.5 years.

What might happen to the aircraft?

There are a few different options for the future of the aircraft.

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The first is scrapping. Just recently a scrapping and recycling company finished packing away the first A380 in their facility in France. The aircraft took 11 months to take apart bit by bit, with up to 90% of the components being recycled as spare parts for other A380s, other aircraft, or other industries all together!

However, this particular aircraft doesn’t seem bound for that same destiny. Why would the lessor go to all the effort of repainting the aircraft (and believe me, a whole A380 worth of paint is expensive indeed) only to have it scrapped away?

Then that leaves us with the second option; that the A380 will be sold or leased to a new airline for service somewhere in the world.

air-france-a380-retirement
Air France will remove all of its A380s by 2022. Photo: Air France.

Who would want the A380?

Surprisingly, there are actually a few different airlines who wanted an A380 the first time around and never picked one up. Could they be tempted to now take the A380 for a cheaper price and fully paid off? And who would that be?

Here is the list of airlines who originally wanted an A380:

  • Virgin Atlantic – swapped for the A350 instead and seemed to lack the density of routes that required an A380.
  • Air Austral – originally wanted two aircraft in an all-economy configuration, but never pulled the trigger. Actually did hire the Hi Fly A380 for a few trips last year, however.
  • Hi Fly – The wet-lease carrier was rumored to actually be hunting around for a second A380; perhaps this could be their lucky day.
HiFly operates A380 on behalf of other carriers. Photo: HiFly

Alternatively, if not an airline that doesn’t have the A380, what about an airline that wants another A380?

In a previous article, we touched on the various airlines and their plans to retire the A380 and only a few popped who still had confidence in the type. Perhaps the Air France A380 will go to the likes of:

  • Emirates, which operates the biggest range of A380s and needs a new aircraft as a backup.
  • British Airways, who want to maintain routes as their Boeing 747s are retired (and until the new Boeing 777X delays are fixed).
  • Or a magnitude of other carriers who might need the aircraft as a backup.

What do you think? Who will take up the aircrafts mantle? Let us know in the comments.

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Mario Sciulli

I believe this particular aircraft, and all other retired/unwanted A-380’s should be re-purposed as cargo airliners, perhaps for companies who need a very large space to haul specific commodities throughout the world.

Mark Thompson

Unfortunately the A380’s double decker design is only suited for passengers. Unlike the 747 the height of each floor on an A380 is far too low to accommodate cargo containers. Also, the cargo version of the 747 has a swing nose that allows for very fast loading and unloading. With an A380 you would have to bring all the cargo in and out in small containers through doors designed for passengers. And the reason the Air France plane is being repainted is that this is standard in lease agreements as airlines do not want pictures of aircraft with their logo… Read more »

High Mile Club

Speaking of the 747F, I remember an incident where someone made the mistake of unloading the forward section BEFORE doing the aft, which resulted in the plane’s nose getting tiled into the air as if it was going to take off due to the weight imbalance.

Bryce

@Mark Thompson: Your incorrect comments about the floor height and lack of front loading in the A380 apply also to the 777, 767 and A330…and yet all those planes are available as cargo variants. As regards passenger doors: there are various Passenger-to-Freight (P2F) revision companies that convert passenger aircraft to cargo aircraft, by installing side cargo doors and putting cargo rollers along the deck floors. @Mario Sciulli: A limiting factor with the A380 in a freight variant is that it has a huge volume-to-weight ratio. It therefore would only be suitable as a freighter in the specific case of cargo… Read more »

Phiroze K Cama

Bryce, very well explained. The A380 is an excellent aircraft for volumetric cargo, like you mentioned, and parcel services like FedeX, DHL, UPS etc would benefit from an aircraft like the A380, especially on their dense international routes.

vbscript2

The point was that the A380’s upper deck is useless for cargo. The 777, 767, and A330 don’t have that problem, as they don’t have an upper deck to waste. The A380 wouldn’t be able to hold much, if any, more cargo volume than the 777F because it would only be able to load the main deck. But it would be very expensive to convert and, even once converted, significantly more expensive to operate than a 777F. The 747 fills cargo market that the A380 can’t fill (i.e. large cargo that needs to be loaded through the nose) and the… Read more »

Paul Proctor

Good response. Cargo door conversions could be possible, but expensive.

Zburătorul

China?! Or India 🇮🇳?!

BA won’t take used aircraft they have made it plain the cost of doing so is prohibitive and besides the engines are incompatible with BA’s fleet never mind being highly problematic and low reliability throughout the aircrafts life. A little research would have told you that.

High Mile Club

I don’t think Emirates likes the idea of taking used A380s. They like to get them fresh from the factory.

Bryce

There’s an airline start-up in the US that wants to fly exclusively with a fleet of second-hand 747-400s: it’s calling itself Avatar.
In a related fashion, maybe someone will try a similar concept with a fleet of second-hand A380s.
Other commentators here have mentioned specialist LCCs and India as potential buyers/markets.

Whether they’re interested or not, I have no doubt that Ryanair would be able to fill A380s is they decided to start some form of longhaul LCC.

Tony

Air France is repainting the aircraft, not the leasor. It may be in the contract or maybe Air France does not want pictures of an aircraft being scrapped or stocked with its colors.
Singapore Airlines A380 were also repainted before scraping, the painting is not an indication of any sale plans and most likely the aircraft will be scrapped.

Frank

Repainting the aircraft is part of the the lease contract between the lessor and Air France. That means not the lessor goes to all the effort, but it is on Air France to return the aircraft in “full life condition” (including the repainting). The lease contract ends in 2/2020. Up to now all Airbus A380 returned to its lessor – MSN 003 (scrapped, engines currently leased to Rolls Royce), MSN 005 (scrapped, engines currently leased to Rolls Royce), MSN 006 (now Hi Fly, “9H-MIP”), MSN 008 and MSN 010 (both currently parked in Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees, engines currently leased to Rolls Royce)… Read more »

Aman

I just can’t seem to think of anyone who would want them- British Airways would have probably been the only potential buyer given that Willie Walsh said that they were exploring second hand A380s. However Alex Cruz recently said in an interview that they were no longer considering them as the cost of refurbishment made them uneconomical so that’s ruled out. Virgin just back-tracked on their own order and I just don’t see the aircraft fitting into their own point to point model. Ditto for Air Austral who would do better with densely configured 77Ws. Given that Emirates could not… Read more »

Bryce

I don’t buy the BA re-fitting argument. There are plenty of airlines that buy second-hand aircraft and re-furbish the interiors…in addition to airlines who give their own aircraft total makeovers on a regular basis. The fact that it costs twice as much to re-fit an A380 is countered by the fact that it carries twice as many passengers…it effectively is two planes in one.
Cruz probably just lacks the confidence to make a bold investment.

Opus

Cruz doesn’t make the investments. they are agreed at group level

Michael F

This is a deliberately pedantic comment so please don’t shoot me however I’m curious for clarification of the statement that “this aircraft in particular is a brother of the Hi Fly A380”. The Hi Fly aircraft is a RR powered ex SIA example while this particular aircraft is GP7000 powered ex AF model so in A380 terms probably could not be more different !!

VHAQ

The aircraft after being painted, will go back to service until January…
My guess is F-HPJB may join Hi Fly as the third a380, as 9V-SKE (MSN010) might be the second one.

ROBERT ERICKSON

There are cargo/package airlines that may go this route. UPS for example ordered it, even expanded the airport for it. They are big into MD1’s which they got used and are approaching 20 years in the fleet.