Emirates To Retire Airbus A380s By Mid 2030s

The world’s biggest operator of the A380 is planning for their retirement in the 2030s. Emirates has 110 of the aircraft in service and a further 14 on order. The Emirates A380 is a common sight at airports around the world, but already the airline is talking about their replacement.

Tim Clark, Emirates Airlines President said to Air Transport World (ATW) in June that “We will continue to invest in them (the A380s) and fly them into the mid-2030s.”

Emirates to retire Airbus A380 by mid 2030s
Emirates will retire their A380s by the mid 2030’s. Photo: Emirates

Earlier this year Emirates drew a line under its last  A380 order by cutting its final delivery by 39 aircraft. They will still take 14 new A380s from the order, which are due to arrive over the next couple of years. Airbus subsequently announced they would cease producing the A380.

Why Emirates is turning away from the A380

Emirates flew over 89 million passengers last year, and has a fleet of 254 aircraft. But recent years have seen challenging times for Emirates and other Gulf airlines. Emirates has reported slowing growth and its lowest profit levels in a decade. They cite lower oil prices and falling consumer demand as reasons.  

Their hub and spoke model, where Emirates funnelled passengers through Dubai, is under threat. More passengers want to avoid stopovers and fly direct instead. Emirates’ emerging focus on smaller aircraft, as well as their interest in fifth freedom routes, suggests more and more Emirates passengers will be bypassing Dubai in the future.

Emirates to retire Airbus A380s by Mid 2030s
Will Emirates be sending less passengers through its Dubai hub ?  Photo: Emirates

In February 2019, at the same time as it cut its A380 order, Emirates announced a different purchase. The airline will take 40 A330-900 aircraft and 30 A350-900 aircraft from Airbus, with deliveries slated to start in 2021.

This multi billion dollar order no doubt helped sooth the pain at Airbus over the cancelled A380, and comes in addition to a preliminary order for 40 Boeing 787-10’s. What’s clear is that Emirates is interested in moving away from the big capacity jets like A380s to smaller aircraft instead. These smaller jets are more nimble, fuel efficient, and open up a range of destinations for Emirates that weren’t viable using A380s.

Nonetheless, it is a bold strategy for an airline experiencing sluggish growth. Passenger growth on Emirates grew just 0.2% last year, yet capacity grew by 4%. Nevertheless, Emirates President, Tim Clark, is bullish on the future. He sees a way forward by lowering operating costs and diversifying the route network. Swapping out the fuel guzzling A380s for more efficient aircraft is an obvious starting point.

Emirates to retire Airbus A380s by mid 3030s
Emirates is buying 40 Airbus A330s. Photo: Wikimedia

Other carriers abandon the A380

While Airbus still considers the A380 a success, many carriers that were customers for the A380 a generation ago are now looking at alternative aircraft for the future. The first A380s that entered service only 12 years ago are now been scrapped. Other airlines are already taking active steps to remove the plane from their fleets.

Earlier this year, Lufthansa sold six A380s back to Airbus, citing unprofitability. Qantas stepped back from its final A380 order in February this year, deciding to keep its A380 fleet at 12. Qantas sees its immediate future in the Boeing 787.

Emirates near neighbour, the well regarded Qatar Airlines, is retiring the A380 in favour of Boeing 777Xs from 2024.  Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, says his 10 A380s will be 10 years old in 2024, paid off, and he sees that as a good time to retire them.

2024 is still five years away, leaving plenty of time for passengers keen to experience Qatar’s world beating premium cabin product on board the A380. To replace them, Qatar is buying 60 777Xs. These are high capacity, long range and fuel efficient.

Like Emirates they seem to see their future away from the A380 mega carrier. However, for Qatar, disposing of 10 aircraft will a much easier task than offloading more than 100 of them. The market for second hand A380’s remains practically non-existent.

The end for the A380

That the world’s biggest operator of A380s is actively planning to withdraw the aircraft from its fleet suggests that the A380s days are well and truly numbered. The A380 burst onto the scene only a generation ago. It seems likely it may fade out in another generation or so. Whether the A380 survives fondly in the memories of many, like the Boeing 747 will, is another question.

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