Is Smaller Better? The Decline Of The A380, A340 & 747

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed the face of the entire aviation industry. Airlines have been forced to re-evaluate their long-term fleet plans. By now, everybody is aware that the four-engine giants have fallen from favor. But just how far did they fall?

China southern A380 crosses a bridge in front of the setting sun
The four-engined giants have fallen from grace due to COVID-19. But just how far have they fallen? Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Spire Aviation, which provides global flight tracking data powered by satellites, has monitored the flight activity of A380 and other four-engine aircraft worldwide. Simple Flying decided to look into how much the world’s four-engined giants, the A340, A380, and Boeing 747, have dropped in usage with the help of their data. Here’s what we found.

Pretty similar numbers of four-engined jets flying

It’s interesting to look at the number of aircraft currently flying, comparing the Airbus A340, Airbus A380, and Boeing 747. As we went into 2020, Spire Aviation’s data shows that around 234 A380s were flying, compared to 165 passenger 747s and 133 passenger Airbus A340s.

Graph showing A340, A380, and 747 utilization
Interestingly, similar numbers of each four-engine giant were flying at the end of 2020. Photo: Spire Aviation

As the COVID-19 crisis developed, all aircraft types took a hit to their numbers. However, the impact wasn’t proportional. Instead, each type now has a roughly similar number of operational aircraft. According to Spire Aviation’s data, in December 2020, the Airbus A340 was actually the trio’s king with 66 active. This compared to 64 Airbus A380s and 55 Boeing 747s.

Lufthansa, Boeing 747-8, Destinations
Just 55 passenger 747s were flying at the end of 2020. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Another exciting quirk shown by the data is the recovery of the aircraft types. The Boeing 747 and A380 both saw a similar recovery in use between May and June, each by around 30 aircraft to 90 active planes. The 747 then fell once more to its lowest in July, having maxed out at 90 operational aircraft, while the A380 continued to climb to 100 active aircraft in July before a three-month drop to its lowest, 50 aircraft in October.

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The Airbus A380’s recovery

The recovery of the skies’ giant has so far been prolonged, with the likelihood remaining that a good portion of the global fleet will never fly again. The hopes of the giant of the skies largely stay in the hands of their largest operator, Emirates. Thankfully, the Dubai-based giant remains committed to the giant of the skies.

Graph showing A380 flights per operator through 2020
Emirates has been the backbone of the Airbus A380’s recovery. Photo: Spire Aviation

Today the airline’s A380 fleet made a big push towards recovery, with several routes seeing the type for the first time in almost a year. However, this will be short-lived for the time being as destinations such as Munich have been up gauged just for the Easter holidays. The airline hopes to operate flights to 18 cities with the type this summer. Spire Aviation has produced an exciting animation showing just where the A380 flew throughout 2020.

What about the A340 and 747?

As far as the A340 and 747 are concerned, there is one leading airline behind both type’s ongoing usage. Lufthansa is utilizing both types. However, it has trimmed the fleets significantly. The airline is one of six passenger airlines currently operating the Queen of the Skies, with only a portion of the 747-8 fleet presently flying. Meanwhile, while the entire A340-600 fleet is sat in the Spanish desert, the airline is flying a handful of A340-300 aircraft worldwide.

Are you surprised to see similar numbers of all four-jet giants are currently operational? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!

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