The A380 was once seen as the future of the aviation industry. But its star flared out very quickly. Only a handful of airlines ended up taking the plane, and this year, most of them have parked the A380. While the A380’s days were numbered before 2020, this year’s events will only accelerate the pace. It makes it a good time to consider which airlines will retire the A380? Let’s explore.
We already know who the first airline is to retire their A380 fleet. Air France was the first airline to retire its fleet of ten A380s officially. The plane operated its last commercial flight for Air France in June. They had previously flagged retiring the fleet in 2022, but a torrid 2020 saw the airline bring those plans forward. When the announcement was made in May, Air France said they wanted a more competitive fleet with higher performance and a reduced environmental footprint.
No choice at Emirates with the A380
The benevolent godfather of the A380 project is the Dubai-based Emirates. It is the world’s biggest operator of A380s, with 114 in its fleet. These days, only 12 of the A380s are in the air. Emirates has little choice but to stick with the A380 despite saying earlier this year the A380 era was over.
Six months down the track, the message out of Dubai is more pro-A380. In an interview last month that indicated the Emirates A380s weren’t leaving the fleet anytime soon, CEO Tim Clark said;
“[The A380s] remain hugely popular with the traveling public. And with less of them around now, I should think we will do particularly well with this aeroplane when we get them all flying again.”
What are Etihad and Qatar up to regarding the A380s?
The A380’s future at regional stablemates Etihad and Qatar is less assured. Etihad has ten A380s, none of which are currently flying. Etihad’s A380 is arguably the blingiest in the sky, with their spectacular Residence suite. Down the road, in Doha, Qatar Airways also has ten A380s, also all parked.
Etihad has endured financial strife for some time, its lavish A380s arguably contributing to that. Right now, Etihad’s fleet of A380s are indefinitely grounded, A380 crews are getting laid off, and the airline’s management said it wants to become a smaller and leaner airline. That’s seen quite a few commentators suggest the indefinite grounding may become permanent.
Qatar Airways won’t fly its A380s until demand returns to 2019 levels, something the airline thinks is some time off. Qatar’s boss, Akbar Al Baker, seems to have cooled on the A380 this year, instead preferring the more efficient A350s and Dreamliners.
While Akbar Al Baker hasn’t said he wouldn’t bring the A380s out of long term parking down the track, he does seem to be leaving his options open. But Akbar Al Baker is a sharp operator, and he’ll be keeping his A380 cards close to his chest.
What are the European A380 operators up to?
European airline Air France went into the crisis with 10 A380s and will come out with none. That leaves Lufthansa and British Airways with A380 fleets. British Airways has a dozen A380s and Lufthansa slightly fewer. Neither airline is presently flying the aircraft type.
Germany’s Lufthansa looks set to follow Air France’s lead soon. They’ve got several A380s dating from 2010. All are in long term parking, either at Teruel or Frankfurt. As Simple Flying reported, Lufthansa management reaffirmed last month that the Airbus A380 is unlikely to return to service.
“Based on current fleet planning and the resolutions taken by the management boards, the assumption is that five Boeing B747s, eight Airbus A380s, 17 Airbus A340s. and eleven Airbus A320s, five owned Airbus A319s and another ten leased Airbus A319s at Lufthansa German Airlines… will be retired permanently.”
Last month, Simple Flying reported no British Airways A380s have flown revenue flights since March, with many stored at the French airport Chateauroux. But the iconic UK carrier says the A380 does have a future at British Airways, saying;
“The A380 is still a valued part of our fleet, and there are currently no plans to retire them.”
The informed speculation is that while British Airways may retire some of their older A380s, they will keep some of the newer A380s. The outcome is British Airways will keep flying the A380s, only fewer of them.
Multiple Asian airlines usually fly the A380
Skipping to the other side of the globe, numerous Asian airlines operate the A380, including ANA, Singapore Airlines, THAI, Malaysia Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Asiana, Korean Air, and Qantas down in the Oceania region. Only China Southern Airlines is currently sending the A380 into the sky.
Singapore Airlines is retiring some of its A380s but spending millions refurbishing the remaining A380s. In the process, they are making it clear the aircraft will stay in the Singapore Airlines fleet for some time yet.
Japan’s ANA has just three A380s that they normally send down to Hawaii loaded with Japanese tourists. There’s not much tourism in Hawaii right now from Japan, but eventually, things will return to normal. Then, the Japanese will be packing their bags and heading for the sun. Every indicator suggests ANA will hang onto their A380 fleet, ready to capitalize on future demand on this typically busy and lucrative route.
China Southern Airlines has five A380s and is presently flying four of them. It, Korean Air, and Emirates are the only current operators of the A380. China Southern is an interesting airline. It’s big, and its ownership structure provides deep pockets and handy political connections. The airline doesn’t normally say much, but there are no signs the A380 will soon leave the fleet. Economics aside, it’s a question of prestige and face.
What’s the situation for the Korean A380 operators?
Korean Air’s ten A380s were all parked until October, when one A380 came back into service to operate flights over to Guangzhou (albeit only once a week). However, the prospects of the remaining Korean A380s returning to service sometime down the track are significantly better than at many other airlines.
Passenger traffic is increasing in the North Asia region and across to the United States. In there are some high volume, heavily trafficked routes to hub airports perfect for the A380. That points to Korean Air hanging onto their A380s for a while.
The future of the A380’s at Asiana is more uncertain. The Korean airline has just six A380s. One appears to be flying, if only to keep pilots current. Even before 2020, signs were Asiana was cooling on the A380, replacing the type with A350s on some flagship routes. Asiana is kind of in the Qatar Airways A380 camp – maybe we will retire the A380s, maybe we won’t, we’re not really saying just yet.
The future of the A380 is less certain at THAI and Malaysia Airlines
We’ve canvassed the financial problems of both THAI and Malaysia Airlines extensively in Simple Flying. Both have grounded A380 fleets. The problems at both airlines predate 2020 and the travel downturn. But typical of this part of the world, prestige and face matters. The ship might be going down, but it will be a fine looking ship.
But there are some glimmers of pragmatism from both airlines over their future and the future of the A380. Equally, there are a lot of diehard hardheads around. It’s highly likely THAI’s fleet of six A380s will not fly passengers again. Across in Kuala Lumpur, things are also grim at Malaysia Airlines but perhaps a degree or two less so.
You might be inclined to flip a coin as to whether Malaysia’s six A380s take passengers again. It’s up in the air. At both airlines, there are bigger problems than the A380s themselves.
That leaves Qantas
Sydney-based Qantas has twelve A380s, all of which have been relocated to California for a couple of years in desert storage. Again, there’s speculation about the future of the A380 at Qantas. Six of the planes were recently refurbished, and six were not. What’s likely to happen is that the refurbished A380s will eventually get brought back into service while the unrefurbished planes permanently stay in California. Either way, Qantas has indicated it will be two or three more years before a decision needs to be made.
The A380 never sold in great numbers. Particular airlines typically fly it to particular airports. Depending on where you live, you might see the plane a great deal or not very often at all. One thing is for sure, events of 2020 will thin out the A380 numbers even more. Like Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and ANA, some airlines will squeeze out another decade flying the A380s. Other airlines will cut their losses and walk away from the plane. But it’s a fluid environment, and trying to pin down a timeline is a tricky business.
What do you think? What’s the future of the A380? Are certain operators destined never to fly the A380 again? Post a comment and let us know.