Who Will Fly The Last Airbus A380?

Once seen as aviation’s future, the A380 has quickly fallen out of favor with airlines, replaced by more efficient twin-engine competitors. This year’s crisis has sounded the death knell for the A380 as international traffic plummets. As more airlines make plans to retire the superjumbo, which airline will fly the last Airbus A380?

Airbus A380
Once seen as the future of aviation, 2020 has accelerated the retirement of A380s globally. Photo: Airbus

The end of the program

While 2020 has struck a debilitating blow to the A380, the program has been struggling for years. The superjumbo’s last order came in 2016 when ANA placed an order for three A380s to fly its prized Tokyo-Honolulu route. It became clear in the last few years that the program was on its way out, with only a handful of orders to fulfill.

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The last A380 rolled off the production line in late September, marking the end of the plane’s production just 15 years after it began. With production now formally complete, the A380 is officially part of Airbus’ history. However, aircraft live far beyond their production, in some form or another.

ANA is the last airline to place an order for the A380, purchasing three aircraft in 2016. Photo: Airbus

In terms of future sales, a second-hand market for the A380 also seems unlikely to spring up. To date, only one airline has purchased a second-hand A380, Portuguese wet lease carrier Hi Fly, who bought a former Singapore Airlines aircraft. With no airlines looking for high capacity jets at the moment, the A380 sales will remain restricted to a handful of charter operators like Hi Fly.

Who still flies the plane?

Before we jump into the last operator of the A380, it’s important to note which airlines still fly the aircraft, especially considering the spate of retirements this year. This list includes planes currently in storage and whose status is yet to be confirmed since they are yet to be formally retired. Here is the list of A380 operators by the number of planes, according to Planespotters.net:

  1. Emirates – 115 aircraft (+8 pending for delivery)
  2. Singapore Airlines – 19 aircraft
  3. British Airways – 12 aircraft
  4. Qantas – 12 aircraft
  5. Etihad – 10 aircraft
  6. Korean Air – 10 aircraft
  7. Qatar Airways – 10 aircraft
  8. Lufthansa – 7 aircraft
  9. Asiana – 6 aircraft
  10. Malaysia Airlines – 6 aircraft
  11. Thai Airways – 6 aircraft
  12. China Southern – 5 aircraft
  13. ANA – 2 aircraft (+1 pending for delivery)
  14. Hi Fly – 1 aircraft
Emirates is the biggest A380 customer by far, accounting for nearly 50% of all A380s ever built. Photo: Emirates

As is clear from the figures, Emirates is the largest operator of the A380 by a long shot. The airline has taken delivery of 115 planes with plans to take on eight more in the coming years. This would mean Emirates will operate a 123 of the 251 A380s built. The plane has become synonymous with Emirates, which has invested heavily in building its infrastructure around the superjumbo.

After Emirates, Singapore Airlines is the largest user of the A380 with 19 planes. It also happens to be the launch customer of the plane, taking its first delivery in 2007. Numbers quickly drop off from there, with British Airways and Qantas each having 12, and Qatar, Etihad and Korean with 10 each.

Barring Emirates, most airlines could quickly absorb any capacity loss seen from retiring the A380. So which airline will hold onto the plane for the longest?

The last A380

When it comes to the question of who will fly the last A380, things start to get a bit murky. No airline has laid out a specific timeline for their A380s, with most plans up in the air due to the pandemic. However, with a few statements and assumptions, we could chalk out which airline will be the last to fly the A380.

Emirates, the most likely contender, has said its plans to have the A380 in its fleet into the 2030s, adding another decade to its life. Seeing that the airline still has planes to be delivered in the next few years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see it use the A380 for years to come.

Emirates A380
The sheer size of the Emirates fleet means that it will likely be the last operator of the A380. Photo: Emirates

However, there are a few more airlines which use the A380 for more novel purposes. Malaysia Airlines uses its A380s to fly a special pilgrimage service for Umrah and Hajj. These routes need high capacity aircraft to fly between Malaysia and Jeddah and Medina in Saudi Arabia, which means the A380 will fit the bill for years to come.

Malaysia Airlines also deploys its A380 on lucrative charter operations when they arise. One notable event came after the collapse of Thomas Cook, when Malaysia’s A380 flew between Manchester and Mallorca to repatriate stranded Britons.

Malaysia Airlines A380
Malaysia Airlines uses its A380s for special pilgrimage flights and charter operations. Photo: Channelsking via Wikimedia Commons

Another possible candidate for the last A380 operator is Hi Fly. The wet lease provider has seen strong demand for its superjumbo and has even considered purchasing another. Wet leaser operators tend to hold onto their planes for a long time and they can quickly be leased due to operational changes or special missions.

Hi Fly A380
Hi Fly is the first to purchase a second-hand A380 and could the plane for a while. Photo: Hi Fly

ANA is currently the youngest A380 operator, having only taken delivery of two A380s, both in the last year. The planes, which are affectionately known as the Flying Honus due to their livery, serves the specialized, high-demand, Tokyo-Honolulu route. With one aircraft yet to be delivered, ANA could well be the last A380 operator simply due to its fleet’s age.

The end of an era

Regardless of who operates the last A380, it is sad to see so many airlines plan to retire the type. The A380 gave airlines the chance to try out new luxury products, such as first class suites and bars, and passengers more space, all while also maintaining high capacity. The end of the A380 means a return to single-deck planes for the foreseeable future.

Air France, Airbus A380, Retirement
Air France became the first airline to retire its entire A380 fleet due to the downturn. Photo: Getty Images

There is no definitive answer as to which airline will continue to fly the A380. Unlike the 747, which will live on for decades as a cargo aircraft, the superjumbo has no such future. For now, we should all try and catch a flight on the A380 as soon as the pandemic is over and enjoy this technological marvel.

Which airline do you think will be the last A380 user? Have you ever flown on an A380? Tell us about your thoughts and experience in the comments below!