Qantas have confirmed that the A380 will be phased out within the next 10 years. Speaking at the IATA AGM, Chief Executive Alan Joyce said they are committed to operating the Airbus for ‘up to ten years’.
Up to 10 years of the A380
Qantas were the third airline in the world to receive an A380, just behind Emirates. Their first class suite and sofa lounge was legendary among long haul travelers. With 12 in their fleet, they were among the biggest operators of the plane, just behind Lufthansa and Singapore (but miles behind Emirates, of course).
They had planned to take delivery of a further eight, to take their fleet to 20 in total. However, following a restructuring of the business, the airline formally cancelled their order in February this year. Now, it seems that the plane is slated to be phased out by 2029 at the latest. According to CH-Aviation, CEO Alan Joyce spoke about the A380 at the IATA AGM, saying,
“We are reconfiguring the A380s as we speak. It will take a year to reconfigure all twelve of them. We are committed to operating the aircraft for another up to ten years,”
Right now, the Qantas A380 fleet has an average age of 9.8 years old. This will put them at around 19 years average age if they do indeed operate them for a further decade.
The mid-life makeover is good to see. The refurbishment will span from tip to tail, with upgrades planned to bring the aging cabins into line with the latest designs, as featured on the carrier’s 787s. Qantas told Australian Business Traveler that the first of the refurbished birds would be back in service by September (just in time for that mystery flight to Orlando, it seems).
What will replace the A380?
With Qantas planning the retirement of their fleet of 12 A380s, the question on everyone’s lips is what will come next? They’re going to need a high capacity, long range plane to take the place of the biggest aircraft in the sky, so what will it be?
We already know Qantas are evaluating their options for the Project Sunrise plane, with the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350 both on the table as potential candidates. It’s likely that whatever plane is chosen for this mission will be the same that will replace the A380 eventually.
The A380 currently operates routes to Dallas/Fort Worth, London Heathrow (via Singapore), and Los Angeles. Both the 777X and the A350 are capable of operating these routes, but do they have enough seats?
The current Qantas A380 has 14 first, 64 business, 35 premium economy and 371 economy seats, for a total of 484 seats. This is hard for the Airbus to compete with, with only 360 – 370 seats on the A350-1000 in a typical three class layout. The 777X too lacks capacity, seating around 400 – 420 passengers on the -9X version.
Could Qantas be seeking the slated -10X for their new fleet? The extra stretch would allow around 450 passengers, much closer to the capacity of the A380. Or are Airbus going ahead with the rumored A350-2000 to give them more seats?
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Perhaps Qantas, like so many other airlines, simply find the giant A380 too difficult to fill, and are therefore happy to take on a smaller aircraft instead. Time will tell, but we suspect that whatever fills the Project Sunrise niche will be an important aircraft for Qantas going forward too.
747-400s to go by 2021
Qantas will retire all their 747-400s by the end of 2020. The airline currently has a total of seven 747-400s in its fleet, all of which are owned by the airline. One is a straightforward 747-400 which is 22.7 years old, and the six others are all ER versions with an average age of 16.4 years.
They plan to replace them with Boeing 787-9s, of which they already operate eight. They have a further six on order, a deal which was confirmed last May, which will enable them to retire the last of their 747s.
Alan Joyce said of the 747 retirement in a press release,
“This really is the end of one era and the start of another. The jumbo has been the backbone of Qantas International for more than 40 years and we’ve flown almost every type that Boeing built. It’s fitting that its retirement is going to coincide with our centenary in 2020
“Over the years, each new version of the 747 allowed Qantas to fly further and improve what we offered passengers. The Dreamliners are now doing the same thing. The 787 has better economics and a longer range, and its already opened up new routes like Perth to London. With a larger fleet of Dreamliners, we’ll be looking at destinations in the Americas, Asia, South Africa and Europe.
“By the end of 2020 we’ll have farewelled the 747, finished upgrading the cabins of our A380s, and welcomed our fourteenth 787. That’s a great proposition for our customers and creates some really exciting opportunities for our people.”
When the order was placed, Qantas had 10 747s remaining in its fleet. These have been steadily retired since last summer, with the final few now on borrowed time before Qantas waves goodbye to the jumbo for good.