While many would argue the Airbus A380 was already well on the way out before COVID-19 began, there’s no doubt the global pandemic significantly accelerated its decline. We explore the fall of the A380 since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
Grounded A380s never took off again
Before the COVID pandemic, there were approximately 240 Airbus A380s in active service making over 300 flights per day. However, as the graph below demonstrates, flights dropped off sharply around March 2020 and haven’t come anywhere close to pre-COVID levels since. While other planes have slowly but surely upped their numbers, the A380 has seen no such recovery.
Why exactly is this? A key factor is the cost of operating such a large plane, especially when there are other aircraft capable of doing the same job for less. As most airlines are operating just a fraction of their routes, they are pushing their most efficient planes back into service and leaving gas-guzzlers like the A380 on the ground.
The A380 was built for long-haul flights, which have been hit severely by international travel restrictions and lack of demand. With international travel lagging far behind domestic travel, there simply isn’t the demand for 400-600 pax long-haul aircraft.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Even Emirates has been slow to unground the A380
The biggest operator of the A380 is Emirates, which boasts over 100 of them in its fleet. Worryingly for the future of the A380, Emirates has favored reintroducing the twinjet 777 over the Airbus plane. According to Planespotters.net, there are just 13 active A380s in the Emirates fleet and over 100 grounded.
However, Emirates CEO Sir Tim Clark has claimed that the A380 still has a central role in the carrier’s fleet. In a November interview, the CEO stated that Emirates plans to operate its entire fleet by early-2022. Cook reaffirmed the airline’s support for the A380, saying,
“The A380 remains the flagship of Emirates. It will always be there for us until such time as it finally has to retire.”
Will the A380 ever recover?
The A380 program is coming to an end in the next year or so, but the plane itself may continue to play an important role in aviation over the next decade. However, as things are trending, it doesn’t look good for the A380. Many airlines were already planning to retire the A380 from their fleets before the COVID pandemic accelerated their decision.
Much of the plane’s fate rests with Emirates, which has around half of all A380s in its fleet. The UAE carrier is still awaiting delivery of new A380s, the last of which is expected by Spring 2022. Emirates’ hub-and-spoke model is ideally suited to the A380, so there is a good chance the plane will still be commonplace. However, for other A380 operators, they may have already flown their last A380 flights.
Where do you see the A380 in a few years? Will carriers reintroduce it once long-haul flights start recovering? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.