The A380 is struggling to find its place in the modern world. With airlines looking to more efficient twinjets for their future fleets, the giant Airbus is rapidly falling out of favor. Airbus had hoped there would be a solid second-hand market for its A380 aircraft, many of which are already retiring very young. But with the only used A380 operator, Hi Fly, unable to make it work, is the second-hand market for the giant plane over?
No need for a giant aircraft any more
The Airbus A380 has become a firm favorite with aviation fans around the world. However, for airlines, it has been something of a damp squib. When it was conceived, hub and spoke operations reigned supreme, with airlines looking to ferry large numbers of passengers great distances across the globe, funneling them through hubs to connect on to their final destination.
Things have changed a lot since then. Even when the A380 was finally brought to market, it arrived to a world where the needs of passengers and airlines were already changing. Point to point was on the rise, and both passengers and airlines were beginning to show a preference for frequency rather than capacity.
Today, things have changed even more, and not in a way that favors an aircraft like the Airbus giant. The predicted downturn in passenger traffic, coupled with the need for airlines to streamline and boost the efficiency of their operations, means there are few places left for the A380 to turn.
Some airlines continue to operate the type. Emirates has little choice but to fly its giants, at least for a few years yet. British Airways, operating out of slot controlled Heathrow, still sees a future for the plane. But for others, the pandemic was the opportune moment to sever ties with the A380 for good.
Airbus has always remained committed to a second-hand market for the A380. It has said it would support airlines who take on these giant planes after their first operator has finished with them. Despite this, only one A380 ever found a secondary home, and now that story is ending all too soon as well.
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Hi Fly cannot sustain the A380 any more
The news that Hi Fly is no longer able to work with the giant could be seen as the final nail in the coffin of a second-hand A380 market. It was, and remains to date, the only airline to ever take up a used A380, and had been making good use of it until recently. When the lease contract comes up for renewal, it will not be renewed, and 9H-MIP will likely be scrapped.
The airline said that the decision is a direct result of the pandemic. Over the course of the last six months, we’ve seen numerous airlines take steps in the same direction. Air France shed its A380s early on, great swathes of the Boeing 747 fleet have been removed from service, and of the A380s that remain, many have been mothballed for extended periods.
At one point, Hi Fly had considered adding a second A380 to its fleet. However, it will now look to the more efficient A330 widebody to fill its needs. If Hi Fly, the only airline ever bold enough to take a second-hand A380, is unable to make the aircraft work, what hope do we have for any second-hand market in the future?
Is there anywhere where the A380 would work?
As yet, British Airways has remained committed to its A380 fleet. It has regularly maintained the 12 aircraft it owns, suggesting all 12 will be coming back into service as soon as it makes sense to do so. Its home base at Heathrow and dominance on the lucrative transatlantic market means it is, perhaps, one of the few operators for which the A380 makes sense.
In terms of second-hand A380s, there are unlikely to be many roles where it would work. Earlier this year, Hi Fly adapted its A380 to carry cargo, and fulfilled a key role in supply PPE around the world in the fight against COVID. With a huge capacity inside the fuselage, could cargo be a market when the A380 could excel?
While its size makes it a capable cargo shifter, the A380 has a relatively low payload compared to other aircraft types. Moving lightweight PPE around the world is a role it can fill well, but anything heavier would see it flying with just a fraction of its cabin space filled. As such, a smaller, more efficient twinjet, such as the A330 or 787, would be better suited to this role.
One place where the aircraft could make sense, however, would be in the mass pilgrimage marketplace. Last year, Malaysia Airlines launched a new A380 airline exclusively for pilgrimages, designed to move people from hub airports to holy sites on mass. Other airlines, such as Garuda Indonesia, regularly flex their schedules to accommodate these mass movements of people.
While these events could be somewhere that a bespoke airline could make an A380 work, they are highly seasonal and not really a solid business plan as such. It’s likely the year-round cost of owning an A380, even a second hand one, would outweigh the benefits of operating these unique flights, and that a charter operation would be a better way to tackle this need.
Right now, it seems like there is no hope for a second-hand market for the A380. While scrapping these young, technologically advanced giants seems almost sacrilegious in a way, the alternative of keeping them flying would be just as costly to the environment.
What do you think? Will there ever be a second-hand market for the A380? Let us know in the comments.