Airlines Are Grounding Their Airbus A380s – Here’s Why

It has been a tough week for the Airbus A380. Three big airlines have announced that they are grounding all or most of their A380 fleets. In these lean times, when passenger numbers are plummeting and airlines are busy cutting costs, the shortcomings of the A380 are coming into focus.

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High operating costs and a lack of agility are key reasons why the A380s are being grounded. Photo: Getty

An expensive aircraft out of its time

We’ve all heard the argument that the A380 came into production a decade too late. Never has that been more apparent than now. The A380s can work well on certain routes, but they are big, expensive to run, lack agility, and are constrained as to what routes they can operate on and airports they can land at.

It isn’t the sort of handicap airlines want when they look to consolidate routes and reshuffle aircraft across routes in order to cut costs.

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Only eight A380s were delivered last year. Photo: Getty

Perhaps that’s why, after a burst of fervor in the early noughties, airlines (with the notable exception of Emirates) cooled on the A380. This is highlighted in the fact that Airbus only delivered eight new A380s in 2019.

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Three airlines have grounded their A380s this week

It seems that the A380 was in the firing line when some notable airlines were looking to park aircraft this past week in order to reduce capacity and costs. Three days ago, Lufthansa began making plans to ground its fleet of 14 A380s until the end of May. Lufthansa has been operating A380 flights with a 35% load factor.

The next day, Qantas ended days of speculation and announced only two of its twelve A380s would continue operating. The two Qantas plans to keep in service will be running between Sydney and Los Angeles. The 787-9 simply isn’t big or palatial enough to accommodate all the gumnut mafia jetting between Hollywood and Byron.

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Korean Air Lines has grounded its fleet of A380s. Photo: John Murphy via Wikimedia Commons.

Then Korean Air joined the party and announced it was grounding its 10 A380s. South Korea has been hit hard by COVID-19, with many countries closing their borders to South Korean nationals. The impact on Korean Air has been nothing short of catastrophic. Capacity is down about 75% and in addition to the A380s, about 90 other aircraft are grounded.

For such a seemingly ubiquitous aircraft, only a relative handful of airlines operate the A380. They include Air France, All Nippon Airways, Asiana, British Airways, China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, Hi Fly Malta, Korean Air Lines, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.

Less expensive aircraft appeal to airlines

Your average A380 has an operating cost of between USD$26,000 and USD$30,000 per hour. By comparison, the more modern 787-9 costs between USD$11,000 and USD$15,000 per hour to operate. That alone gives some insight into why airlines are so keen to swap out their A380s for smaller aircraft.

Emirates is the exception. Even if it wanted to, it doesn’t have much wiggle room when it comes to substituting out A380s for other aircraft. Nearly half the entire Emirates fleet are A380s. Of course, the A380 is integral to the Dubai hub and spoke model. The airline has done reasonably well with that model but it is something other A380 airlines have never really been able to replicate.

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At this point in time, BA’s A380s are staying in the air. Photo: British Airways.

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to bite, more groundings are inevitable. Some of the A380 carriers, such as Thai and Malaysia, were in deep financial difficulties prior to the outbreak. Whether they survive the downturn in passenger traffic and revenue is a valid question. How long their A380s can stay in the air is an even more pertinent question.

What’s for sure is that as passenger numbers continue to decline and airlines moved to cut costs, big expensive aircraft like the A380 must be first in line to be grounded.

In the near future, the A380 may become a rarer and rarer sight at airports.

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Gonzalo

I, as an expirienced pilot think that the A380 should stay

Frode

What kind of stupid article is this? As usual the sensationalist “newspaper” simpleflying is angling anything on a negative way on the A380. Of course airlines have to ground them, but it isn’t JUST the A380s. They are cancelling thousands (some vary from 50% or more of total network reduction)… Read more »

JFP

Two engines too many. Too many seats to fill. Too few airports can accommodate. Too late into service. Too expensive to operate.

Gary

Weird that you keep hearing how they are grounding the A380.
And yet you do not here if the Boeing 747’s are getting grounded as well.
Being around the same size.

Dongone Seo

Additionally, Korean Air grounded some of their 747s and 777s along with their A380s. And Incheon International Airport blocked Taxiway D5 at Cargo Terminal C to allow airlines to park E/F Class aircraft

Patrickk

You noted without really making the point is that the 799 is half the cost because it is half the size of an A380 …completely unremarkable. Parking A380s for a few months makes much more sense than parking smaller planes simply because there is a sort of reverse economy of… Read more »

PHLing

Am I the only one who had to google Gumnut Mafia?

Rick

Mr. Curran, You have a wonderful future with Sky News, Fox and other drama news outlets. Was this a report on A380 aircrafts, Co-vid 19 or airlines in financial strife.. Certainly you’re headline suggests it is about a380 aircrafts, however in reality, airlines are grounding many routes due to passenger… Read more »

TonytTDK

It seems trite & irrellevant to make the point that “Airbus only delivered eight new A380s in 2019”,
bearing in mind that in 2019, the company made the much-trailed announcement that they were no-longer taking orders for the type & that production would end when the existing orders were completed.

Neal

I read that Qantas was moving QF1 & 2 Sydney, Singapore, Heathrow in April to become, Sydney, Perth, Heathrow. As QF9 & 10 already running. B789 for Perth to Heathrow why not merge the two routes from Perth on to one A380, or is that two much Common Sense. The… Read more »

Peter Sutton ( Ex Qantas)

It was obvious from the start that the A380s were never a match for the 747 (Jumbo Jet) which in its many forms was much more popular with not only the passengers but with many airline operators , Airbus made many claims and promises mainly that the A380 could our… Read more »

TSWPilot

Would be sad to lose the greatest aircraft ever built

Edwin Otiato Marwa.

I think airlines should use common sence on operating the a380s by grounding smaller aircrafts that share one route to one a380. The jumbo has a bigger sitting capacity for example, if there are some 737s with a capacity of 300 passengers, operating on one route like Sydney to LA,… Read more »

Max rosarius

The A380 is only economical at 100% capacity I can’t even imagine what must have been on the designers mind

Vernon Rodricks

If it’s not feasible they should be Grounded it’s very expensive to fly
And at these times with COVID19 it advisable grounded