Kingfisher Airlines: The Indian Airbus A380 Operator That Never Was

Kingfisher always had a reputation for being a luxury-focused airline, but did you know the airline had ordered the Airbus A380? The airline placed an order for 10 A380s in total, hoping to become a major intercontinental airline. However, the airline never took delivery of the planes. Let’s find out the story of Kingfisher’s A380s.

Kingfisher A380
Kingfisher placed an order for 10 A380s, none of which came to be delivered. Photo: Airbus

Fitting the airline’s brand

Kingfisher marketed itself as being the go-to premium Indian airline. It offered inflight entertainment in every seat, hot meals to all passengers, and comfortable seating. And this was just in economy!

In domestic business class (branded as “Kingfisher First”), the airline offered a 2-2 style seating with generous pitch and recline. It even had an onboard ironing service on long flights, along with a fully-stocked bar! With the tagline of “Fly the Good Times”, Kingfisher aimed to recreate the Golden Age of flying.

With this in mind, it made sense why Kingfisher became the first Indian airline to purchase the A380. The airline wanted to remain ahead of the competition, namely Jet Airways and Air India, and saw the A380 as being the next generation of aircraft.

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Kingfisher A320
Kingfisher branded itself as a luxury airline from the start, with a good hard product and focus on service. Photo: marirs via Wikimedia

It should be noted that Kingfisher first ordered the plane in 2005, soon after it commenced operations and before it was allowed to fly internationally. The decision might have raised some eyebrows, although at the time it was chalked up to ambition. However, as we’ll see, Kingfisher went onto double its order, expecting huge demand on many of its routes.

Many analysts questioned the logic behind purchasing the A380. All the airlines who had bought the aircraft in 2005 were large hub airlines, which could aggregate demand for the large plane. At the same time, competitors Air India and Jet Airways were buying smaller 777s and 787s to offer more frequencies. However, it seems Kingfisher was set on being the biggest Indian airline, regardless of the economics.

Doubling down

In 2008, Kingfisher was making its mark in the domestic market and hoped to start international flights soon. It had purchased Air Deccan, a low-cost carrier, in 2007 to compete with low-cost airlines, which were quickly growing. However, purchasing Air Deccan also allowed Kingfisher to start international flights before it could do so itself.

Under Indian law, an airline had to complete five years of domestic service and have a fleet of 20 aircraft before flying internationally. Since Kingfisher had only started flying in 2005, it would need to wait until at least 2010 before going international. However, the purchase of Air Deccan (an older airline) allowed Kingfisher to start flying abroad in 2008.

A380 India Kingfisher
A Kingfisher crew surveyed the A380 when it arrived in India during a tour, expecting to work on the jet. Photo: Airbus

In light of the airline’s ability to fly internationally, Kingfisher doubled its order for the A380, from five to 10. The airline had five options for the A380 from its original order, which it exercised. With a delivery date of 2010-2011, it seemed the airline was all set to fly the superjumbo.

Kingfisher started out with four A320s on domestic routes. However, the airline quickly made it known that it was looking to purchase larger planes and expand its fleet. The airline purchased a number of A320s for domestic flights but ordered a staggering number and variety of widebodies. The airline ordered the A380, A350-800, A340-500, and A330-200, purchasing every type of aircraft Airbus sold at the time.

The troubles

While Kingfisher had set its expectations high, the ground reality was that the airline was burning through cash. In its seven year history, the airline failed to turn a profit even once and focused on growing its operations. By 2011, when the first A380 was expected to be delivered, it became clear the airline was in trouble.

Kingfisher Airbus A340-500
Kingfisher’s A340-500 was already in livery, but the airline could not take delivery. Photo: Laurent Errera via Wikimedia Commons

Kingfisher had placed huge plane orders, buying all the Airbus widebodies available, and the A320. However, when the time came to take delivery of the planes, Kingfisher was unable to do so, citing bad finances. The only widebody the airline ever operated was the A330-200, which it used on international routes to cities such as Hong Kong and London.

Kingfisher A330-200
After ordering every Airbus widebody, Kingfisher only operated the A330. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Kingfisher ended up defaulting on nearly all of its aircraft orders, many of which were already painted and ready to be delivered. The order cancelation became a headache for Airbus, which suddenly had to find new buyers for older planes such as the A340, as well as reducing its order book.

In October 2012, Kingfisher was officially grounded after failing to meet its financial obligations. The airline owes over a $1bn in outstanding debts to various creditors and its employees. The founder of the airline, Vijay Mallya, fled the country in 2016 and currently lives as an economic fugitive in the UK. The history of Kingfisher has been one of ups and downs and is yet to finish, as banks try to recoup their heavy losses.

What it could have been

A Kingfisher A380 could have truly been an interesting aircraft, rivaling the ambitions of the Virgin Atlantic A380. Kingfisher had already made a mark after installing a bar on its A330, a feature usually only seen on very large planes, meaning it could have been planning something more extravagant for its A380.

Showers and lounge areas would likely be commonplace on the plane, along with a brand new first class cabin. We can only guess what would’ve been on the superjumbo now. As the A380 era comes to an end, Kingfisher will remain one of the many airlines who did not take delivery of its superjumbo.

What do you think about Kingfisher’s plans? What do you think it could have included in its A380? Let us know in the comments below.