Air France Debates Retiring Their A380s Early

Air France is the latest airline to consider ending their relationship with the Airbus A380. With a costly upgrade planned, the airline is now evaluating alternate options when it comes to their A380 fleet. This could see the A380 withdrawn from Air France’s fleet sooner rather than later. In the meantime, passengers may never get to see an upgraded cabin on an Air France Airbus A380.

Air France A380
Air France may retire its A380s earlier than planned. Photo: Air France

Air France’s A380 retirement

Originally, Air France anticipated the withdrawal of five Airbus A380 aircraft starting from the end of 2019. This would represent half of their fleet. Although the A380 would be quite young, the lease on those aircraft expires at that point. Thus, it makes sense for Air France to avoid investing in the A380. However, the five A380s owned by Air France would undergo a retrofit.

AF A380
Air France was going to retain five A380 aircraft. Photo: Air France

A new option

Air Transport World reports that, at the Paris Air Show, Air France’s CEO Benjamin Smith indicated that the A380 may forego retrofits and instead be retired. After all, each aircraft would require around €30 – €40 million for a retrofit due to the sheer size of the aircraft. The question is whether or not Air France determines if it is worth keeping the A380 around.

Air France A380
Air France may retire the A380 in favor of newer, fuel-efficient A350s. Photo: Air France

Why the A380s need a retrofit

Air France’s A380s feature a woefully outdated business class product, which pales in comparison to others flying across the Atlantic. While Air France features forward-facing lie-flats and reverse herringbone seats on some aircraft, their A380s feature an outdated angle-flat hard product. With limited privacy and a 2-2-2 configuration, Air France’s A380s aren’t very premium compared to some current and soon-to-be-flying products.

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AF A380 Business
Air France’s A380 business class is outdated. Photo: Mathieu Marquer via Flickr

In order to modernize this cabin, Air France will have to make a major retrofit. They could either go for a 2-2-2 lie-flat or a 1-2-1 configuration. However, this would require a significant investment. And, if Air France can’t make the economics work with their A380s, it is probably better for them to retire the aircraft.

The A380 retirement trend

The A380, though still a passenger favorite, is falling out of favor with airlines. Four engines use a lot of fuel and filling the aircraft can prove to be a monumental task. Lufthansa, Qatar, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines are looking to offload their A380s relatively soon.

Furthermore, even the darling A380 customer, Emirates, recently decreased their order book for the aircraft in favor of more fuel-efficient twinjets. Air France really isn’t starting a new trend with early A380 retirement. Rather, they’re examining whether or not it is worth it to jump on the bandwagon.

Air France A380
Air France’s A380s would add to the large number of A380s soon to enter the secondhand market. Photo: Air France

Overall

It is likely that Air France will choose to retire the A380 earlier rather than later. The ultimate goal at Air France right now is:

  • Fleet simplicity
  • Efficient aircraft layout
  • Product consistency
  • Employee engagement and stronger financials

Removing the A380 will help with most of those goals. Although, Air France does have a brand new product on their new A350 which likely is billed as a more efficient use of cabin space. At the end of the day, losing the A380’s massive fuel bills will likely help improve Air France’s bottom line.

Do you think Air France will retire the A380 early? Let us know in the comments!

13 comments
    1. Boeing also had its Fiasco with the B747/8, which besides Lufthansa and some Cargo Carriers, and of course, Trump’s New Toy, the production line has pretty much been in limbo. The 1st long range Twin Engine aircraft was the Airbus A300B(10/28/1972) and also 1st in utilizing Composite material

  1. A few comments:
    – Why would anyone spend a business class fare to fly in the horrendously sub-standard business seats on the Air France A380? They should have been replaced LONG ago.
    – Tim Clarke (Emirates) has said that, if you can fill an A380, it’s an absolute cash cow. Emirates can fill ten of them every day between Dubai and London (Heathrow and Gatwick), so you wonder why other carriers aren’t as successful in this regard.
    – Emirates and Singapore Airlines have made a success of their A380s. Emirates may not have ordered any new ones, but it still has 19 existing orders in the pipeline, and 111 of them in service, and Clarke has said that they’ll be refurbished and kept running until into the 2030s. Singapore Airlines returned 5 older ones when their lease expired, but concurrently took 5 new ones, and the old fleet is currently being refurbished.
    – I bet that, if Michael O’Leary (Ryanair) had A380s, he’d be able to fill them, and make a fat profit from them. Some airlines don’t seem to adequately realize that turnover is average seat price x NUMBER OF SEATS FILLED. If there are too many empty seats on an A380, the seat price structure needs to be re-evaluated.
    – However, it looks as if all very large aircraft are doomed. The A380 is falling from grace, the 747-8 was a flop, and the 777X has less-than-spectacular order figures (a majority of them from the Gulf carriers, and only 53 for the 777-8). It seems that the B787 / A350 are an optimum size for most airlines.
    – Air France will probably let the A380s go. That whole airline is a mess.

    1. “Emirates can fill ten of them every day between Dubai and London (Heathrow and Gatwick), so you wonder why other carriers aren’t as successful in this regard” and “Some airlines don’t seem to adequately realize that turnover is average seat price x NUMBER OF SEATS FILLED. If there are too many empty seats on an A380, the seat price structure needs to be re-evaluated.” I think this is the crux of the issue with Air France- their product isn’t worth the price. A look at their pricing shows that a roundtrip business class ticket from JFK to CDG on an A380 can run well north of $8,000USD. Meanwhile, a nonstop LHR to DXB can be found for under $3,000USD on Emirates. Is Air France’s business class worth $8,000? In my opinion, not really. Is Emirates worth $3,000? I’d say yes!

  2. As nowadays everything is on cost efficient more than customer concerned,I think Air France will shortly retire the A 380.I made the wonderful experience with the A380 via Emirates flight from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur in 2016 together with the crew of Malaysian Airlines on their way back from pilgrim’s flight to Jeddah.It’s clear for everybody,4 engines need a lot of fuel and the plane has always to be filled with passengers,but 4 engines are safer,if one fails,still 3 are working.If there are only 2, it’s difficult to manoeuvre the plane,if one engine fails.But of course,it can’t use every airport n then special space.It’s up to the airlines,what they need.

      1. Agreed, Joanna. Flew 2 from US to Sidney on Qantas, and it was delight getting on the plane, and the 13+ hours on this majestic flight was a Dream come True.
        Will be enroute again in September19, before Qantas put these babies to sleep.

    1. Four engines aren’t safer than two…there is twice as much to go wrong. In fact, 3- and 4-engine jetliners have higher turnback/diversion rates than twins. Also, when you lose an engine in a 3- or 4-engine jetliner, you still have to turn back. Finally, maneuverability on a twin with one engine out isn’t really a challenge for trained pilots, except for a loss on takeoff at high power settings.

  3. Jay, it’s also you who said this
    “CEOs can make some claims without necessarily acting on those claims”
    Let’s hope that they won’t.

    1. I definitely think some CEOs will test the waters with a statement and see what the public response is before acting on something. However, I can’t imagine that there are a lot of passengers who love Air France’s A380s in the current form. I could definitely see passengers selecting the A380 if refurbished….but that goes back to whether or not Air France can meet their bottom line after investing int the aircraft.

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