Air France Plans The Retirement Of Its Airbus A380s

Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith has told local media this week that he is anticipating the retirement of the rest of the A380s in the Air France fleet. One aircraft was already removed earlier this year, and with no demand for travel now and a predicted slow recovery, it’s unlikely the giant jumbo will have a role in the near future. It raises the question; will we ever see the A380 operate for Air France again?

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Have we already seen the last commercial flight of an Air France A380? Photo: Air France

Smith is anticipating the A380s retirement

In an interview this week with French media La Tribune, CEO Ben Smith confirmed that he is anticipating the exit of the A380 fleet. While the retirement of the A380 by Air France is no big secret, it’s likely the current aviation crisis could accelerate this plan; in fact, we may never see an A380 fly in Air France livery again.

Air France has 10 A380s in its fleet, and previously put plans in place to phase out the giant jumbo by 2022. Indeed, the first of these left the fleet in January this year, completing its final flight to Knock in Ireland for dismantling in late February.

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The first of the type was retired in January. Photo: Air France

The nine remaining Air France A380s aren’t seeing any action right now. Like many large, long-haul planes, the airline has grounded its entire fleet amid the global slowdown in travel demand. Its partner airline, KLM, has also grounded its fleet of Boeing 747s, and accelerated the retirement of the type, phasing the last one out at the end of March.

Will we ever see the A380 fly for Air France again?

While Air France is yet to confirm any firm plans to speed up the A380s retirement, there’s a strong possibility these will not be brought back into service once the current crisis is over. Multiple analysts and industry experts are predicting a slow recovery of the industry, with international demand forecast to take around three to four years to pick up.

This would take Air France well past its retirement deadline for the giant jumbo. If international travel does ramp up incrementally as predicted, there are other, more efficient long-haul planes that would be brought back into service ahead of the A380. Its new A350s, Boeing 787s and even its 777-300s would offer better economics for long haul routes.

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Air France has plenty of more modern, more efficient aircraft to bring back first. Photo: Getty Images

As such, we think it’s highly unlikely these A380s will see commercial service again. Other airlines are already making moves to take the model out of their fleets. British Airways has sent its remaining A380s to aircraft graveyards, and Lufthansa has swiftly cut six A380s from its fleet. While no other announcements have been made, the A380s were first to be grounded and will be last to return – many may not return at all.

No love lost

Despite all the passenger love for the A380, Air France never really made it work. There was no love lost on the giant airplane among current management, with CEO Anne Rigail calling it “totally obsolete, too expensive, too big”.

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Much loved by passengers, the A380 never worked for Air France. Photo: Getty Images

Smith echoed this sentiment at an IATA event Simple Flying attended last year. He explained that, in order to keep up with competitors, Air France would need to plow a significant investment into refreshing the dated cabins. This, he said, the airline was unwilling to do as it didn’t foresee any routes where the aircraft would be useful. He said,

“It obviously has a special role in airports which are congested. And it’s a great airplane for airlines that require it to answer a specific need. But for us, the airport is not full … [We have] four parallel runways, which still have capacity. For most of our main destinations, we still have the slots and the capacity to offer the frequencies that we want.”

Do you think we’ll see the A380 fly for Air France again? Or has its time come early? Let us know in the comments.