Qatar Airways CEO: The Airbus A380 Was Our Biggest Mistake

The future of Qatar Airways’ fleet of 10 A380s has been in doubt for some time. Speaking to Simple Flying, Group CEO Akbar Al Baker admits that the purchase of these jets was perhaps the biggest mistake the airline has made.

Airbus A380 Qatar Airways
The CEO says that the A380 was the airline’s ‘biggest mistake.’ Photo: Qatar Airways

Qatar’s big mistake

Qatar Airways has previously confirmed the impairment of five of its 10 A380 superjumbos, with doubt cast over the future of the other five quadjets. With an average age of just 5.9 years, and some examples still under four years old, this is an expensive early retirement for the airline to make.

In an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, Group CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, admitted that the purchase of these aircraft was indeed something of a wrong decision. He said,

“In my opinion, looking back, it was the biggest mistake we did, to purchase A380s.”

Qatar originally ordered the A380 in 2001, becoming the ninth customer with a small order for two of the huge aircraft. It ordered three more during the 2007 Paris Air Show, and a further five at the 2011 Dubai Air Show.

Qatar-Airbus-A380-Fleet-Retirement
Akbar Al Baker (left) in happier days, picking up his first A380. Photo: Airbus

Just a decade later and the aircraft has fallen substantially out of favor with the Group CEO. He said,

“It was good when it had launched in 2002. But unfortunately, with the rising fuel price and the mistake in the design. We think it was a big mistake.”

Nobody could have predicted what the early 2000s would bring. The 9/11 tragedy, then the global financial crisis, disruption in the Gulf pushing up oil prices… the A380 should have been a great aircraft, but due to circumstances beyond Airbus’ control, it was no longer fit for purpose.

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A380 operators will suffer

With Qatar looking increasingly unlikely to bring back any of its A380s for passenger service, few operators of the type remain. Air France has waved au revoir to its fleet, Lufthansa’s are ‘indefinitely’ parked and neighboring Etihad is unlikely to bring the type back.

Al Baker clearly thinks this is a good strategy, noting that airlines who continue to operate the type will be at a disadvantage. He said,

“People who have large numbers of A380s are going to suffer in two ways. One is operating costs. And second, is people who are very conscious about emissions will avoid traveling on an A380.”

Qatrar Airways Boeing 787
The 787 and A350 are now the ‘mainstay’ of the airline fleet. Photo: Qatar Airways

The Group CEO talked warmly about the alternative aircraft on which Qatar has been so reliant throughout the pandemic months. While efficiency also means lower cost of operations, for Qatar, it means achieving important sustainability goals. Al Baker noted,

“The mainstay of our airline is the 787s, which are extremely fuel efficient, and low CO2 emissions, and the Airbus A350, of which we are the largest operator. We have 53 Airbus A350s in our fleet and we have 40 787 -8s and -9s. We have grounded the A380 simply because it is very fuel inefficient airplane … I don’t think there is a market for that airplane in the foreseeable future.”

Previously Emirates’ CEO Tim Clark told Simple Flying how important the A380 remains for his airline, noting that passengers love it. But Al Baker believes that passenger choices shouldn’t be all about style and comfort, but also environmentally conscious choices. He commented,

“I know the passengers love it. It’s a very quiet airplane, it’s a very smart airplane, but the damage it does to the environment should be priority, and not the comfort.”

As it stands, it is doubtful we will ever see a Qatar Airways A380 again.

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