Could Qantas Follow Lufthansa With Early Airbus A380 Retirement?

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Rumors about Qantas pulling the plug on its fleet of A380s isn’t exactly new. But murmurs have ratcheted up a notch or two lately. Qantas has temporarily grounded the bulk of its fleet, including all of its A380s. Between that and other A380 operators bringing the retirement of the type forward, speculation about what Qantas plans to do with its A380s has intensified.

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There are rumors the Qantas A380 will never fly again. Photo: John Taggart via Wikimedia Commons.

Speculation about the A380 isn’t informed

Speculation bouncing around that it is the end of the road for the Qantas A380 is just that – speculation. And it isn’t particularly informed speculation. Qantas has twelve A380s and last year announced plans to retire them by the end of the 2020s.

“We are committed to operating the aircraft for another up to ten years,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said at last year’s IATA AGM.

That seems straightforward enough. But to back up that statement, Qantas started refurbishing its A380s. It meant each A380 was out of action for up to two months. Each aircraft refurbishment represents a significant expense.

In addition, Qantas loses revenue from flights foregone while the refurbishment takes place. That’s hardly the behavior of a famously cost and efficiency focused airline if it did have plans to retire those planes shortly thereafter.

But this did all take place last year, before the viral pandemic and subsequent collapse of the aviation industry. Things change, but Qantas is quietly continuing the refurbishments of the A380s. The refurbishment of the entire A380 fleet is due to be complete by the end of 2020.

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The A380 works well on certain Qantas routes

And while the A380 isn’t the cheapest, easiest, or most efficient aircraft to operate, it works well for Qantas on some routes. If you factor out Emirates, the A380 has emerged as a niche aircraft – good on high demand medium to long-haul routes with big airports at either end.

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The A380 works well on certain routes. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas has quite a few of these routes; Sydney to Los Angeles, Sydney to London, Melbourne to Singapore, and Sydney to Dallas. In normal circumstances, the A380 works well on these routes.

The Sydney to Dallas route is a rip-roaring success for Qantas. The London route works because, among many reasons, Qantas can get a big load of passengers in and out on a single aircraft at notoriously slot-constrained Heathrow.

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Some unkind people have said Qantas won’t take the A380 off the Los Angeles run because it is the only Qantas aircraft with first class. The airline doesn’t want to upset the high flying Hollywood crowd with ties in both countries. But that too is speculation …

A further factor in the A380’s favor is that the aircraft is a hit with passengers. Economy cabin passengers have always liked the roomy main cabin. This is especially so when compared against the squeezy economy cabin Qantas has on its long-haul Dreamliners. The refurbishments will also bring the premium cabins up-to-date.

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Business class on the refurbished Qantas A380. Photo: Qantas.

Right now, the A380 is pretty redundant for Qantas. But you could make the same argument for most of its fleet. The thing is, travel demand will bounce back. When is a whole other issue. But when people start flying again, the A380 will again have a role in the Qantas fleet.

Suggesting otherwise indicates a failure to look beyond the very short term.

What do you think? Is it the end of the road for the Qantas A380 or does the plane have life left in it yet? Post a comment and let us know.

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