What’s Happening With Korean Air’s Airbus A380 Fleet?

Korean Air is a top-shelf airline that tends to fly under the radar. It lacks the razzamatazz of other airlines in the region, like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. But unlike those two airlines, Korean Air has proved remarkably resilient this year, even making a profit in the second quarter of 2020. That makes it an exception to the rule this year. But when it comes to its fleet of A380s, Korean Air is playing by the 2020 aviation standard playbook.

What’s the outlook for the Korean Air fleet of A380s? Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Korean Air began parking its A380s in early March

Korean Air has a fleet of ten Airbus A380s. All of them are stored – no surprises there. Airlines around the world with A380s are busy storing them. Local competitor Asian Airlines also has a fleet of six A380s. It has parked them for the time being. Across the region, All Nippon Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines, and Qantas all have fleets of Airbus A380s, and none are currently flying them.

Korean Air began parking its A380s back in March. Database search reveals that, of the ten A380s, HL7611 last flew on March 7, coming in from Charles de Gaulle Airport. HL7612 last landed on March 6, flying in from New York’s Kennedy Airport. HL7613 last jetted in on March 4, operating a flight from Los Angeles. HL7615 came in from Los Angeles on March 1 and has sat idle since. HL7619 last flew on March 4, coming in from New York’s Kennedy Airport.

HL7621 also flew in from Kennedy in March and has not moved since. HL7622 came in from Kennedy the next day and has sat idle since. Flying in from the opposite direction, HL7627 last operated on March 8, coming in from Charles de Gaulle Airport. Finally, HL7628 took off from Seoul’s Incheon Airport on July 5, heading down to Manila. Presumably, that’s for maintenance at Lufthansa’s Technik’s A380 facility in Manila.

Korean Air A380
Korean Air has grounded its fleet of 10 A380s. Photo: Getty Images

Swift moves by management help Korean Air squeeze out a Q2 profit

What does that list of final flights and dates reveal? It suggests Korean Air responded fast to the impending downturn in travel demand, grounding the planes early and acting decisively. Other airlines were slower to respond. Qantas, for example, kept some A380s operating for the rest of March.

That decisiveness helps explain why Korean Air squeezed out a profit during the second quarter of 2020. The airline reported a profit of just over US$125 million. That figure may not be up there with normal levels, but it sure beats, for example, Japan Airlines’ loss of US$882 million across the same period.

That profit wasn’t due to Korean grounding its A380s, but it did play a small role. The grounding helped reduce the cash burn at the airline. It also suggests the airline’s senior management isn’t afraid to make hard decisions.

Korean Air A380
The prospects of Korean’s A380s returning to service in time are good. Photo: Getty Images

Good prospects of the A380 returning to service at Korean Air

While Korean Air has reduced or suspended services to many of the destinations the A380 usually flies to, the prospects of the Korean A380s returning to service sometime down the track are significantly better than at many other airlines.

While the airline is in a difficult situation and it’s questionable whether it can pull off a profit again this current quarter, it does have a couple of points in its favor.

Passenger traffic is starting to increase in the North Asia region and across to the United States. In there are some high volume, heavily trafficked routes to hub airports perfect for the A380. While Korean’s A380s may be doing nothing much right now, there remains a future for them at the airline.