The last year and a half have made everyone realize just how precariously positioned the aviation sector is. And one airliner that has taken an enormous beating from it is the Airbus A380. Already in decline even before the pandemic, the recent events have only pushed it closer to cliff edge. So, when the president of the largest A380 operator, Emirates, says the aircraft will continue flying with them for many more years, everyone takes notice.
Not the end of the road
As airlines around the world wash their hands of the A380 faster than we can blink, Emirates is swimming against the current. The airline’s president, Sir Tim Clark, reaffirmed his faith in the superjumbo recently, saying,
“Emirates will continue to be the largest operator of this spacious and modern aircraft for the next two decades, and we’re committed to ensuring that the Emirates A380 experience remains a customer favorite with ongoing investments to enhance our product and services.”
The statement came when Emirates announced it is bringing forward the delivery of its remaining three A380s, with the last one scheduled for delivery in November this year.
The latest planes will come fitted out with new cabin interiors and the much-talked-about premium economy cabins. Bringing the delivery forward makes sense as Emirates would want to deploy these new aircraft sooner rather than later, instead of retrofitting the previous ones for the time being.
COVID-19 vs. A380
Once a matter of prestige for any airline, the A380 today is barely a shadow of its former self. Most airlines have more or less retired the superjumbo. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said last month that it is highly unlikely the A380 will come back. All but one of Lufthansa’s A380s have gone to long-term storage, and the last one is expected to join them soon.
Air France was one of the first carriers to retire its A380s quickly. The airline was already struggling to operate the superjumbo and had planned to phase them out by 2022. The pandemic only hastened the process.
The A380 cannot match the stats of the new kids on the block – the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787. With their lighter frames and new-generation fuel-efficient engines, the A380 finds itself much behind in the game. In an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, Etihad CEO Tony Douglas said the A380 is “handicapped by two engines too many,” a sentiment most A380 operators seem to share, except Emirates.
Strategy going forward
By November this year, Emirates will have a total of 118 A380s. Almost half of its entire fleet, it just cannot drop the superjumbo as others have. Some A380s in its fleet haven’t even flown yet, and the new ones arriving will have a good 10 to 15 years to give.
With the Boeing 777X, 787, and Airbus A350 on order, Emirates will probably plan a phased retirement for the A380s. While the carrier may seem “stuck” with so many double-deckers, the size of its superjumbo fleet is also an advantage. The cost of operating 100+ of the same type of aircraft drops significantly in terms of maintenance and crew, as opposed to operating a sub-fleet of just 10, as was the case with Air France. Also, Emirates would want to squeeze the most out of the newly fitted A380s, so one can expect them to be around for quite some time.
Meanwhile, the carrier has already started deploying the A380 to major cities, including London and Manchester, and has added Zurich, Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, and Hamburg to its winter schedule.
Keeping the superjumbo alive
It remains to be seen how Emirates will emerge out of the pandemic with its A380 strategy. For all we know, it could be the only operator of the double-decker in a few years. Would that somehow work for the airline? The A380 remains popular among passengers for being one of the most comfortable aircraft ever built. For most airlines, however, profit trumps popularity, so it will be interesting to see how Emirates balances the two.