Qantas Is Keeping Airbus A380 Pilots On Standby

Qantas may be downsizing and cutting its employee numbers, but the airline is keeping enough A380 pilots on its books to reboot its A380 fleet at short notice. Qantas has 12 of the mega jumbos, but all are in long-term storage. However, Qantas is confident the planes will return to the air and is ensuring it retains the capability to operate them.

Qantas has confirmed it is retaining the capability to operate A380s, including keeping pilots on standby. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas to balance job losses with a need to retain A380 operational capabilities

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce caused ripples last week when he said further jobs would go from the airline’s international crews. The Sydney-based airline has grounded most of its international flying. The airline has 16,000 of its 22,000 employees back at work. Most of those employees who aren’t back at work normally work on international operations.

Mr Joyce is trying to be as nice as he can be about it. But there is no real nice way to deal with job losses. He says Qantas will call for “expressions of interest” from employees open to leaving the airline. The Qantas boss hopes to trim employee numbers by several hundred.

But when making the announcement, Alan Joyce was careful to note Qantas would balance redundancies against a need to retain key international capabilities for the longer term. In follow-up comments to the media, Mr Joyce said that capability included keeping on enough A380 pilots to operate at least six A380s at relatively short notice.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce doesn’t want to lose all of his A380 pilots. Photo: Getty Images

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Qantas repositions A380 to Los Angeles

We know Qantas has some good to fly A380 pilots at the moment because the airline operated a short A380 flight between Victorville and Los Angeles last week. VH-OQC was re-positioned to Los Angeles on Thursday. There is some speculation the plane is off to Dresden for heavy maintenance, but at this point, the A380 remains in Los Angeles. VH-OQC joins VH-OQB and VH-OQD at Los Angeles International while the nine other Qantas A380s remain at Victorville.

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the future of the A380, not just at Qantas but at nearly all A380 operators. However, Qantas has been at pains to confirm its confidence in the A380’s future.

“We think we will reactivate all of the A380s. We spent a lot of money on them … Once demand is there, they’re going to be good aircraft,” said Mr Joyce at CAPA Live in April.

Nine Qantas A380s remain in storage at Victorville in Southern California. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

Qantas bucks the A380 trend

Alan Joyce has steadfastly flagged 2023 as the likeliest date to reboot A380 services. Last week, the Qantas CEO reaffirmed that timeline, saying he expected to have at least six of the A380s back in the air by the end of 2023. By coincidence, six of the 12 Qantas A380s have been freshly refurbished. But key to Qantas’ strategy is the ability to ramp up sooner if necessary.

“If demand comes back earlier, we can reactivate the A380s within three to six months. That’s the level of flexibility we have.”

To have that flexibility, Qantas needs to keep A380 crews primed to go. Mr Joyce’s comments last week suggest Qantas is keen to retain that capability.

Alongside British Airways and Emirates, Qantas is bucking the A380 trend. The mega jumbo is set to disappear from the Qatar Airways, Etihad, China Southern Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Lufthansa, and Air France fleets. The A380’s future at Thai Airways is also highly doubtful. That will leave ANA, Korean Air (who will get Asiana’s A380s from the Korean/Asiana merger), Qantas, Emirates, and British Airways as the only likely A380 operators going forward.