When Airbus gave the A380 final notice, many assumed that this was the beginning of the end for the plane. With little demand for the type in the second-hand market, and unsuitability for the cargo market, how could the A380 make a comeback? It turns out there may be one market left untapped.
Why was the A380 canceled?
The A380 has several flaws that made it a burden for airlines.
- The A380 had four engines and was enormously fuel-hungry.
- The plane could seat hundreds of passengers, but as soon as the airline couldn’t sell all the seats onboard, it became expensive to operate.
- The A380 could only land at certain airports that had a long enough runway, taxiway width, or gates at the terminal, limiting route options.
- It only made financial sense over a very long distance, further reducing its possible routes.
- Airbus designed the aircraft for hub to hub travel. When airlines found that passengers preferred to fly as directly as possible to their destination (such as Washington to Barcelona, rather than flying through hubs like New York and London), they saw that the A380 was not the right aircraft for the future.
For these reasons, airlines fell out of love with the expensive aircraft and jumped ship to smaller but more fuel-efficient planes almost as soon as they could (this processes greatly accelerated during the aviation crisis). It is for these reasons that a comeback for the A380 will unlikely be from regularly scheduled passenger services.
What about other markets for the A380?
If passenger flights are out for the type, what other markets exist for the A380 to make a comeback?
Cargo was an option at one point, and the idea has grown in popularity as airlines struggle to meet cargo demand and look more aircraft to transport freight. However, the plane has a flaw that makes it unsuitable for cargo operations. A consequence of being so heavy is that the maximum takeoff weight of the A380 is smaller than its total internal volume. Thus a cargo operator will run out of takeoff power before they run out of room onboard.
Another possible option may have been the second-hand market. Unfortunately, only a single A380 has sold on the used market, and others have already hit the scrap heap. If there isn’t a team of buyers waiting to get into the A380 market as they leave flag carriers, then it is unlikely it will make a comeback through those means.
However, there is one other market we have yet to mention that may keep the A380 flying for a few more years.
Using the A380 for pilgrimage
The Airbus A380 is suitable for mass charter flights, such as transporting pilgrims from around the world to Mecca as part of the Islamic pilgrimage.
One airline, Malaysia Airlines, under its subbrand Amal, has used the A380 in 2019 for these pilgrimage flights.
“Amal by Malaysia Airlines will be utilizing the spacious A380-800 aircraft, configured with unique pilgrims centric in-flight features such as Talbiyah, Doa Musafir, Azan on board, Tazkirah on board and Miqat announcement to ensure that the pilgrimage experience begins the moment they step into the aircraft,” Amal chief executive officer Hazman Hilmi said to New Straits Times last year.
The A380 is ideally suited for this role. It can carry many passengers on this popular route between Kulu Lumpur and Mecca. Also, because the pilgrimage only happens once a year, the airline can guarantee that all of these seats will sell for the routes scheduled. If needed, the aircraft can reconfigure into an all-economy cabin of up to 853 passengers.
Alas, this one use, even for a month every year, might not be enough to keep the aircraft around for the rest of the time. As smaller but cheaper to operate aircraft become more readily available (like the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350), this pilgrimage role will pass onto them.
What do you think? Will the A380 make a comeback? Let us know in the comments.