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The A380 Operators that Weren’t: The Airlines that Never Got the A380

When A380 deliveries cease in 2021, over 200 superjumbos will have been operated by 13 airlines all over the world. The operators of the A380 are some of the highest-profile airlines in the world: Singapore Airlines, Emirates and British Airways, just to name a few. But often lesser-known are those airlines that ordered the A380 yet, for a variety of reasons, never took delivery. These are those airlines.

ANA A380

ANA’s A380s only came into being because of Skymark’s cancelled orders. Photo: Airbus.

Transaero (Air Accord)

Russian airline Transaero ordered four A380s in 2012, making them the first airline in Russia and Eastern Europe to order the aircraft. The aircraft were to have been in a 3-class configuration seating around 700 passengers. Transaero initially planned to take delivery of their first A380 in late 2015, with reports suggesting that the aircraft would fly from Moscow to Vladivostok and New York. However, the worsening economic situation in Russia severely hurt Transaero’s business, leading to them delaying their first A380 delivery, before ceasing operations in October 2015. Three of Transaero’s orders remain on the Airbus order book, under the label of Air Accord.

An A380 in Transaero livery

An A380 in Transaero livery (Airbus)

Virgin Atlantic

All the way back in 2001, Virgin Atlantic ordered six A380s, originally due for delivery in 2006. Yet Virgin Atlantic consistently delayed their order, before it finally disappeared from Airbus’ order total last February. It’s thought that Virgin simply lacked the high-density route network needed to support A380 operations, and instead prefers smaller twinjets. The A350-1000 has replaced the A380 as the flagship of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet.

Rendering of a Virgin Atlantic A380

Rendering of a Virgin Atlantic A380 (Airbus)

Kingfisher Airlines

Kingfisher Airlines ordered 5 A380s soon after starting operations in 2005, making them the first (and likely only) airline in India to order the superjumbo. In 2008 they doubled their order to 10 aircraft and asked for Airbus to advance the delivery date on their existing orders to 2009 from 2010/2011. This was an ambitious move for an airline which at that time was not yet allowed to operate internationally. Yet throughout its short history as an airline Kingfisher was never able to make money and in 2012 high debts caught up with the airline and they ceased operations. By 2014, the order was removed from Airbus’ order books.

Air Austral

Air Austral ordered two A380s back in 2009, planning to operate them in an 840-seat all-economy configuration to shuttle passengers on the 11-hour flight between Paris-CDG and its base on Réunion island. However, this plan never came to fruition as they cancelled their order in 2016. However, Air Austral did end up operating the A380 (in a sense) as just last year they leased HiFly’s A380 to fill in for one of their 787s which was having engine issues.

HiFly A380

One of Hi Fly’s A380s. Photo: HiFly

Skymark Airlines

Skymark Airlines, then a major Japanese low-cost carrier, ordered six A380s back in 2011, representing a major success for Airbus in the Japanese market that was then highly dominated by Boeing. Despite being a low-cost carrier, Skymark planned to operate the A380 in a low-density, all-premium configuration of only 394 seats (114 business and 280 premium economy). Yet over the next few years Skymark’s financial situation degraded quickly. Skymark wasn’t able to pay for the A380s they had ordered. In 2014, even though Skymark’s first two A380s were already at an advanced stage of production, Airbus cancelled Skymark’s order. Soon afterwards, the airline filed for bankruptcy. The resulting legal drama saw Delta and ANA compete for creditor approval to restructure Skymark. ANA’s proposal succeeded only by them wooing the support for Airbus, one of Skymark’s largest creditors. In exchange, ANA placed an order for three A380s, which will soon enter service.

The first A380 for Skymark in production

The first A380 for Skymark in production (Airbus)

Hong Kong Airlines

In 2011, Hong Kong Airlines ordered 10 A380s, with the intent of using these aircraft to drive their expansion into Europe. However, this order faced challenges from the beginning. In 2012 HX almost cancelled their order following the European Union’s adoption of a new tax framework for international carriers. Later, the decision by another HNA Group firm, Hong Kong Aviation Capital, to order 70 A320neos and A321neos also put the order into doubt. By March 2014, HX’s orders were listed as being from an “unidentified customer,” and this January they were finally removed from the order book.

International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC)

ILFC was the first lessor to order the A380, booking 10 airframes in 2001. Yet as seems to be a recurring trend here, ILFC soured on their A380 order. In 2006 ILFC CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy suggested that ILFC could canel their order after Airbus announced major delays in the program. But the order limped along until 2011, when ILFC swapped out their 10 A380s for an order of 75 A320neos and 25 A321neos.

Amedeo

Doric Lease, a predecessor to the Amedeo brand, originally placed this order in 2013. Like ILFC, Amedeo had trouble finding airlines to lease the A380. In 2017, Amedeo proposed creating its own all-A380 airline, to offer the aircraft to traditional airlines, as well as possibly disruptive entrants such as Airbnb. This unusual business plan never came to fruition, and on February 14 Amedeo formally scrapped their order.

The firming of Amedeo's order at the 2014 Singapore Airshow

The firming of Amedeo’s order at the 2014 Singapore Airshow (Airbus)

Kingdom Holding Company

Perhaps the most unique A380 order ever placed was Kingdom Holding Company’s order for one VIP variant of the A380 in 2007. The A380 “flying palace” was destined for HRH Prince Alaweed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest individuals. This aircraft continually made headlines for its opulent interior, including a grand staircase and steam room. Nevertheless, in 2013 Prince Alaweed transferred the order to an undisclosed buyer. In 2014, Airbus removed it from the order book for good.

An Airbus rendering of the ACJ380, the A380's VIP variant

An Airbus rendering of the ACJ380, the A380’s VIP variant (Airbus)

The A380F: FedEx and UPS

The final two cancelled A380 orders are the two orders for the A380F, the A380’s cancelled cargo variant. FedEx Express was the first to commit to the A380F, ordering 10 aircraft in 2002. UPS Airlines ordered an additional 10 in 2005. But by 2006, production delays and doubts about the aircraft’s usefulness as a cargo carrier doomed the A380’s cargo variant. In November 2006, FedEx cancelled their A380F orders, and instead placed an order for 15 777Fs. In March 2007, UPS followed suit and cancelled their order. Smaller A380F orders from ILFC and Emirates met the same fate. No other airlines ever ordered the A380F.

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