Right Plane, Wrong Airline: Why Air France Doesn’t Want The A380

The A380 is a firm favorite with passengers and avgeeks alike, but for airlines, it’s something of a different story. Big, expensive and impossible to fill, its rapidly being phased out of fleets all over the world. Simple Flying heard from CEO Ben Smith at a recent IATA conference about why it just doesn’t work for Air France.

Air France AIrbus A380 on runway
Air France will retire its Airbus A380’s by 2022. Photo: Air France

No love lost

Air France has made no secret of the fact that it has fallen out of love with the Airbus A380. The airline plans to phase out the type by 2022 at the latest, and it seems that the next two years can’t move along soon enough.

At the recent IATA Wings of Change Europe conference in Berlin, Air France-KLM Group CEO Ben Smith talked about the decision to end Air France’s long relationship with the giant jumbo. He said,

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“It’s a tough airlplane. At airports to board and to deplane takes a long time with special bridges required to accommodate the size. It takes a long time to get your bags, it uses more fuel. Operationally, it’s not the best airplane to use.”

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Ben Smith IATA
Ben Smith speaking at IATA. Photo: Simple Flying

Air France has 10 A380s in its fleet, something which it is looking to change as quickly as possible. Its impending retirement is a decision which is wholeheartedly supported by CEO Anne Rigail. Speaking to Airline Ratings recently, she dubbed the type “totally obsolete, too expensive, too big”. Damming criticism certainly, and something which was largely echoed by Smith in Berlin.

Why Air France can’t keep the A380

To cut a long story short, the aircraft is costing them money. It requires special bridges; ramp staff need special training and its four engines make it expensive to fly. Not only is it costing Air France money now, but it also needs to have more money spent on it in order to stay competitive with other airlines. Smith commented,

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“Two of our big competitors who also have the plane already have fantastic cabins … In order to spend that money [on refurbishing the cabins], we would have to have routes on which we could use that airplane.”

Air France A380 business
Air France’s A380s need modernization of the cabins. Photo: Air France

And refurbishing an A380 is not a job that comes cheap. Smith mentioned a cost of some €35m ($38m) per aircraft, which is clearly a substantial investment for a plane that’s not really a great fit for the airline.

And it’s not only the refurbishment that is a pressing burden on Air France. In order to keep the A380s flying, a heavy maintenance check is due on all ten aircraft in the next couple of years. This in itself can generate costs running into the millions, not to mention the loss of capacity by taking the aircraft out of service.

A great aircraft, just not for them

Despite all the criticism for the A380, Smith also admitted that it’s a great aircraft in the right circumstances. He commented,

“It obviously has a special role in airports which are congested. And it’s a great airplane for airlines that require it to answer a specific need. But for us, the airport is not full … [We have] four parallel runways, which still have capacity. For most of our main destinations, we still have the slots and the capacity to offer the frequencies that we want.”

air-france-a380-retirement
The A380 won’t be seen in Air France colors for much longer. Photo: AIr France.

For Air France, the A380 just doesn’t make any sense. In fact, for the majority of its operators, the giant jumbo is fast becoming irrelevant in the current climate. As CEO Rigail said to Airline Ratings,

“When the A380 came to Air France in 2009, it replaced two aircraft types, so on the cost side, it wasn’t too bad. Since the efficiency of the A350 and the 787 is the same, but with less capacity and more flexibility, you can put them on any route. So, of course, the A380 is no longer useful.”

It will be a sad day when the A380 comes into land in its Air France livery for the very last time, at least for its passengers and fans. But, for Air France, it’s an outdated airframe that’s hemorrhaging money. Despite all their niceties about the type, it’s clear they can’t wait to see the back of the expensive (and expansive) beast.

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High Mile Club

To be honest, Air France’s A388s weren’t all that great either when compared to just about every other carrier with the plane.

Jethro

the A380 is a beast but the airline (air france) is crap look at the Qantas and etihad and singapore they use the A380 probably

Maximilien Gilles

You are right and I couldn’t agree more !

Nicholas

Interesting comment – straight to the point ! Air F is not the best airline…

pats

I personally love the A380. Double deckers mean excellent seat choices. BA uses them and love it each time I fly LAX-LHR.

Transworld

They don’t love it to buy more of them do they?

So, it works on that route and a few others but totally lacks flexibility

Norman

If it has a special role in congested airports then I wonder why he doesn’t pass them on to KLM??

Nick Mackenzie-Rowe

Because Schipol has 5 runways and more spare slots than CDG

Adje

Schiphol has 6 runways but no spare slots at all

Transworld

Joe Sutter called it. Too big, too heavy hard to board, go Joe!

And AF knew this going in, why did they go with a short term when they knew the 787 was on the way?

Steve

From what I read at the time, the reason they went with it was quite simple. Politics.

Nick

As with everything in France, projecting how important they are.

Henning

Air France made their firm order for the A380s in 2001. There was no plans for the 787 at that time,

Martin

Depending on when they were made, and how well they have been maintained, they could be a very cheap buy for Emirates; but this is almost certainly not going to happen. Who else could buy and use them well? Shame Air France’s in cabin product on the A380 was so ordinary and old hat the day they installed it. They almost set out to sabotage its’ success before they loaded their first paying customer.

Parker West

Air France made the determination that no cabin improvements were going to reverse the cash hemorrhaging or they would have made those improvements. It’s a passenger favorite but a company cash cow. Qantas can’t fill their 380s neither can Singapore or Air France. The seat/mile costs are higher than the 777-300, 787-9, as well as the 350 and 747-8. You can’t be over 5’6” and 130 lbs if you think airlines care about your comfort or favorite aircraft. Seat pitch under 34” was unheard of until the early 2000’s now some operators expect full grown adults to find a way… Read more »

Luis

When Boeing decided to pull out of the race with Airbus and focus on the dream liner, they said the future of air travel was on poin-to-point not on hub-to-hub. They were right after all. The 787 and A350 success vis-a-vis the early retirement of the A380 clearly shows it.

Pete

If I was the CEO of a big, international airline, I would want my fleet as diversified as practicable. All these airlines around the world that depend solely on twin-engine planes for long-haul, over ocean routes are asking for trouble. Look what the grounding of the 737 Max fleet is doing to Southwest Airlines in the USA.

Leslie Hlatshwayo

Yes, quads all the way. Just redesign the engines a d the frames to be lighter a d very efficient. For the love of the quads

High Mile Club

You better be ready to pay for the fuel cost. That’s one reason jumbos are disappearing.

David Murphy

The A380 in my view is one of the best aircraft ever made. The airlines should be looking at the bigger picture ,it is a firm favourite with customers. In this age of global warming the airlines should be considering their global footprint,less aircraft in our sky means less pollution. I have flow on several different types of aircraft and found that the A380 was miles ahead of the rest. If I am travelling long haul .i would always pick the airline that was using theA380 every time. I agree it is more expensive to operate but with the proper… Read more »

Vusi Mhlongo

But twin engine aircrafts these days are becoming greener. The concern for the airlines is the cost. If they can’t make profit then it’s not wise to keep the a380 on their fleet

Jeff Deeds

I flew several times on the 737MAX before the grounding, and will fly on it again when it gets back in the skies. It will go on to serve the traveling public well for decades to come. Just like the DC-10 in the 70s got a bad reputation for crashes that turned out to be due to faulty design, McDonnell Douglas corrected the problem, and although they’re mostly cargo variants now a days, there are still several hundred of them flying all over the globe today. The 737MAX will have a similar story 30 years from now. As for the… Read more »

Norm

Air France has always been a Cry Baby, and could have learned a lot in a successful A380 operation like Me. Clark at Emirates have proven with their operational model. The best AF had and which I had the pleasure of flying, was the Concorde, and hopefully the A350’s.

Parker West

Air France never made a dime on the Concorde either and they got theirs for free. Airlines should do this or that whether they can make a profit just to please loyal 380 fans, Brilliant! Reality just bit a few of you on the sitter

Vusi Mhlongo

Lol. It’s about the profit though. People’s jobs coz if the airline fail, it will be forced to shutdown and jobs lost

Gantt Cookson

While most consider the Business Class on AF A380 obsolete, I love the 2x2x2 layout. No coffin-like cubbie holes. I guess I’m one of the few that prefers open space (Turkish A330/777 are THE BEST).
Sorry to see these birdies leave AF. I’ve enjoyed flying on the ATL/CDG route.

Vusi Mhlongo

The very best 330/777

ravioliollie

Unfortunately, the A380 was brought to market and it’s vision was ill conceived. However, in 2011, we flew Air France’s A 380 from jfk to De Gaulle and it is the most comfortable flight that we have ever had….. even in economy. Very sad to see it go.

Vusi Mhlongo

It was Airbus ego and proving a point. And we agree they made history but the queen of the skies will always keep the crown coz they outlived the 380 after a century

Maximilien Gilles

Air France is a bad and mismanaged airline which is being sunk by the sexton CEO Benjamin Smith ! I will fly with Emirates, a much better airline which knows how to use the magnificent A380, not like Air France, an airline of strikers which would deserve to go bust. I hope their shitty A350s will crash or be hijacked and hated by passengers until they join their right place: the scrapyard ! Smith should be fired and expelled from France and Rigail must be fired too!

Gerry Stumpe

Folks who “wish for airplanes to crash or be hijacked” are not folks who give a “shit” about their fellow men. Shame on you dude.

Yves

Are you lightly or heavily nuts to say this ?

VHAQ

As much as I love the A380 (it’s my top favorite), I wholeheartedly disagree with you, Maximilien Gilles! Wishing for crashes and hijacks would result a huge drop in passenger volume. Hence it would make A380 ops not viable. Your wish is actually harming your favorite aircraft!

TonytTDK

The actual facts are that the A380 is CHEAPER to operate than ANY other aircraft, quad or twin…..
IF & this is a BIG IF, you can get a 90% load or better.!
That’s the real trick, nothing at all to do with operating costs,
but EVERYTHING to do with Marketing the routes & the aircraft successsfully.

Clearly, Air France has failings in it’s marketing operation, not it’s maintenance department.?

Parker West

Bull, you are wrong despite your caveat and the 90% load factor. Below are the fuel economies compared. Since the non-Middle Eastern three cannot fill their 380s all their costs are much greater. Do you know of any non-ME3 who are coming close to 90% seats sold?
Boeing 777-300ER
2003
365
6,000 nmi (11,000 km)
8.49 kg/km (30.1 lb/mi)
2.91 L/100 km (81 mpg‑US)[62]

Airbus A380
2005
525
7,200 nmi (13,300 km)
13.78 kg/km (48.9 lb/mi)
3.27 L/100 km (72 mpg‑US)[67]

Boeing 747-8
2011
467
6,000 nmi (11,000 km)
10.54 kg/km (37.4 lb/mi)
2.82 L/100 km (83 mpg‑US)[60]

Boeing 747-400
1988
416
6,000 nmi (11,000 km)
11.11 kg/km (39.4 lb/mi)
3.34 L/100 km (70 mpg‑US)[69]

Boeing 787-9
2013
304
4,972 nmi (9,208 km)
5.63 kg/km (20.0 lb/mi)
2.31 L/100 km (102 mpg‑US)[58]

TonytTDK

Are you sure about those figures.?
The most most recent aircraft in the group , B787 seems to have the worst fuel figures.?
& aren’t fuel figures for aircraft normally measured in fuel by weight per mile or kilometer.?

Vusi Mhlongo

Filling them is a big task

High Mile Club

Sorry, but I couldn’t take this statement seriously. A quad-jet is in now way cheaper to operate than a twin jet, as by design it will take much more to keep an A380 properly maintained than a 777 or A350. Not to mention both planes can go the same distance as an A380 (or further) and require less fuel to do it.

Charbax

Ryanair needs to buy these off Air France at a discount, connect Stansted to different US airports and Asia airports, whichever days they put it they can easily fly it full and feed it full of their European flights in, Ryanair could also do same off Brussels Charlerois, Frankfurt and other. Ryanair can reconfigure them as 750+ seater all economy. Then buy other A380 also off other airlines who might decommission them, Emirates might sell them a few eventually too.

TonytTDK

TBH, this is what I (& presumably Airbus) always anticipated…? That some airlines would prefer to spend €50 million on a D-check & refurbishment of a 5-10 year old A380, rather than on however many hundreds of millions these are new.? Some airlines would use them on long haul, but lots of airlines would use them to fly cheap ‘bums-on-seats’ short-haul between capitals or major cities within a country.? IMO India & China would be prime targets for this thinking as their domestic markets grow substantially & meeting that desire to travel within the current aviation ‘model’, requires both thousands… Read more »

Tom

It’s pretty painful to see Air France’s A380-800 to retire. It’s quite a bit of a pain for many airlines, trying to put passengers into the big jet, seat reconfigures, maintain and fly can be very hard and pricey. I think the best thing is to retire the plane, although it’s sad to see it goes.