As China’s only operator of the A380, China Southern has, so far, stuck by its superjumbo, despite the impact of COVID-19. However, the SVP of International and Corporate Relations at the airline, Guoxiang Wu, has indicated today that perhaps the giant aircraft’s days with the airline are numbered.
Reconsidering the A380
China Southern is the only Chinese airline to operate the Airbus A380. With a fleet of just five, it’s a small sub-section of its huge 622-strong fleet. However, its future at the carrier is looking increasingly uncertain amid slumping demand for international travel to and from China.
Speaking at today’s CAPA Live event, Guoxiang Wu, SVP of International and Corporate Relations at China Southern, noted that the A380 is still under review, with its future at the airline looking rather uncertain. He said,
“The largest aircraft in our fleet, such as Airbus A380 is still under our consideration on how we can solve this problem.
“Not only for China Southern but also for many airlines, we must be thinking about the A380 and whether its too large for the routes. The operation cost is very high, and to the future demand for the international routes, we still do not have the signal of recovery in the coming years. So we must be thinking about our structure of our fleets, especially for the widebodies.”
According to RadarBox.com, all five of the airline’s A380s have been in recent service, with all averaging over 100 hours of utilization per month over the past 12 months. However, it is likely most are flying relatively empty, being used to haul cargo on longer trips into Australia, North America and Europe.
While the final decision on the A380 is yet to be made, Wu indicated that the airline would be returning some leased widebodies ahead of schedule. This, he noted, could well include the A380, as well as A330 aircraft.
Restructuring the fleet
Although China Southern is only flying around 10% of its overall pre-pandemic capacity, the domestic market is looking very strong. Data from RadarBox.com shows the number of flights operated by the carrier now actually exceeds that which was operating in the same month of 2019.
But that demand is all driven by the domestic market, which Wu said has completely recovered. He remained pessimistic on the recovery of international capacity, however, and said it was very important for all airlines to reduce their costs in light of this. For China Southern, this involves looking closely at its fleet. He said,
“We need to restructure our fleet, including the retirement of old aircraft, some widebody aircraft, and cut some deliveries of new aircraft and restructure the financial leasing structure. I see it as very important for every airline airlines to reduce their costs. We need to be looking at our structure and our business model.”
Despite warning of significant losses for 2020, Wu was confident in the future of China Southern, but was clear that the airline needed to make some drastic changes in order to adapt to the new operating environment. Like so many other airlines coming out of the pandemic, it seems perhaps the A380 will no longer be a cog in this particular wheel.