Last year saw passenger demand levels drop to unprecedented lows as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For many airlines, this spelled the end for larger aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380. While the former was heading towards retirement age anyway, the ‘superjumbo’ was only launched commercially in 2007. However, its size saw it quickly become obsolete in the ‘new normal’ commercial aviation market.
Nonetheless, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce maintains that there may yet be an operational future for the airline’s remaining double-decker quadjets.
A difficult year for the A380
2020 marked 13 years since the Airbus A380 entered active commercial service with Singapore Airlines in October 2007. However, it also marked the type’s most challenging year, and saw it unforeseeably but quickly become something of a white elephant in the new airline industry.
In the most extreme cases, the lack of demand for aircraft as large as the A380 amid the pandemic caused carriers, such as Air France, to retire their remaining examples altogether. In September, German flag carrier Lufthansa announced that it would be improbable for its remaining A380s to return to service with the airline.
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Qantas’s superjumbo fleet in storage
Qantas did not take such drastic action as Air France, sending its A380s into storage in the US instead. In October, we reported that 10 of these aircraft had been sent to Victorville, California. Meanwhile, the other two were sitting dormant at Los Angeles International (LAX). However, the long-term nature of its storage has called into question whether Qantas will bring the type back.
Indeed, when Qantas sent its final superjumbo into storage in September, it announced that this would be its last international A380 flight until at least 2023. This suggested that the airline was, quite understandably, predicting a slow return to pre-pandemic passenger demand levels.
This is perhaps particularly a shame for VH-OQG Charles Ulm. In August, this aircraft flew directly from Dresden, Germany to the US for storage. It had previously spent months having a new interior fitted in the capital of Saxony, which passengers will now be unable to enjoy for several years.
Joyce still eyes a return for the type
Speaking today at EuroControl‘s Aviation StraightTalk Live, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce refused to rule out a return to service for the Australian flag carrier’s A380 fleet. He stated,
“We do think, if you look at the Qantas network, there are going to be opportunities to deploy those aircraft. (…) If you’ve ever been in LA between 10 and midnight, you see six or seven Qantas aircraft departing to Australia because it’s the only time that works with curfews.”
By utilizing the high-capacity A380, Qantas would be able to reduce this number, easing operational pressure on all involved. Joyce also considers the A380 useful for “airports that have slot restrictions, like Heathrow.”
Overall, it is refreshing to see such optimism from a CEO at such a challenging time for the airline industry. Of course, commercial aviation is still a long way from coming out the other side of the pandemic. Nonetheless, it seems that, both in terms of aircraft and routes (Joyce also laid down provisional timescales for Project Sunrise today), Qantas has big plans for the mid-2020s.
What do you think the future holds for Qantas’s Airbus A380 fleet? Have you ever flown on one of the Australian flag carrier’s superjumbos? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!