Emirates Airbus A380 Pilot Dilemma

Dubai-based Emirates is an airline that has become synonymous with the Airbus A380. Flying a fleet of 114 of the type, with more on order, it’s the only airline in the world to have really embraced the superjumbo. But with just 10 A380s reactivated since the grounding earlier this year, it doesn’t seem to be hurrying to bring them back. Worse than that, it now has nobody left to fly them either.

Emirates Airbus A380-861 A6-EOM
Emirates has fired and furloughed so many A380 pilots there’s nobody left to operate the fleet. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

Just 10 Emirates A380s flying

The world’s biggest operator of the giant Airbus A380 is facing a dilemma. Its fleet relies heavily on the large plane, but right now, it’s just not feasible to operate the type. The A380 has seen mass groundings around the world, with many airlines stating they will not fly it again for some time, in some cases many years.

Right now, Emirates has reactivated just 10 A380s out of its fleet of 114. It still has a further eight on order with Airbus, and is expecting to receive the next new aircraft later this month. Although the first of its fleet was retired just last week, there’s still a massive surplus of giant aircraft to find roles for.

Emirates aircraft stored
Many of the airline’s aircraft have been stored. Photo: Emirates

Emirates is currently flying the A380 to a handful of destinations. These include Cairo, Paris, London Heathrow, Guangzhou and Moscow, as well as the short hop to Amman, which was added only this week. In order to put more of the A380s into service, Emirates is going to have to think very carefully about where to fly them. But that’s not the biggest question it is facing right now.

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Who will fly the A380?

Before COVID, Emirates employed somewhere in the region of 4,300 pilots. According to One Mile At A Time, right now, it has just 2,900 pilots on its books. That means around 1,400 pilots have already been laid off, as in, lost their jobs, not just put on furlough.

While the airline has a fairly even split of aircraft type between the A380 and 777, 114 and 151 respectively, the layoffs appear to have hit the A380 pilots worse. One Mile At A Time states that around 75% of the remaining pilots are 777 crew, while just 25% are type rated for the A380.

Laying off the A380 pilots disproportionately to the 777 pilots sends a strong signal that the airline is not planning to fly the superjumbo anytime soon, at least not in high numbers. This strategy is apparent with the fleet reactivation too, as Planespotters.com suggests 146 of its 151 Boeing 777s have already been placed in service.

Emirates Boeing 777-31H(ER) A6-EQN
The 777s are coming back into service much faster. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

As previously stated, less than 10% of the A380 fleet has been reactivated since its grounding. It’s highly likely we won’t see many more of the type taking to the skies for quite some time.

Remaining A380 pilots put on unpaid leave

One Mile At A Time further comments on the status of the remaining A380 pilots working for Emirates. While a large number were laid off some time ago, those who remained on the books have recently been asked to take unpaid leave. The publication suggests that there are only a maximum of 200 pilots left in active service with the airline.

Although an A380 can be flown just by two pilots, the nature of the beasts and the routes it tends to serve means many more than that are required to operate one airframe efficiently. Pilots need to rest, long trips will require a crew change, and as such, there will usually be plenty of pilots for each airframe in the fleet.

Emirates pilots
Less than 200 A380 pilots are believed to be still working for Emirates. Photo: Emirates

One Mile At A Time’s rough math tells us that each A380 needs around 18 pilots a piece. With less than 200 pilots on the books, that means only around 11 A380s can be operated at the present time. Given the shorter routes that some of the planes are flying, that number could increase by a couple, but it still indicates that the projection for flying the A380 in the near future is not positive.

Emirates’ A380 pilots were asked to take unpaid leave for 12 months. For this reason, you’re unlikely to see many more superjumbos taking flight from Dubai until at least next Thanksgiving. We could even see more retirements taking place, particularly with the airline’s extensive orders for smaller planes in the pipeline.