The Airbus A380 Operator That Never Was: Russia’s Transaero

Russia’s Transaero airline was a huge carrier operating international and domestic services from its hub in Moscow. It had ambitious plans to begin A380 services domestically within Russia and internationally to New York. But, in 2015, the airline never showed up to take its A380 keys from Airbus, and the order became nothing more than a myth.

The Transaero A380. Photo: Airbus

Who was Transaero?

Transaero was first founded as a charter airline in Russia in 1990. It was the first privately owned airline in Russia and would also be the first to operate a private service between Moscow and Tel Aviv. It originally flew Russian made aircraft but, in 1993, got its first Boeing 737-200. At its peak, the airline would have 97 aircraft and fly to 156 destinations.

The airline operated a variety of very interesting routes, such as Moscow to Montreal and Moscow to Sydney, Australia, via Hong Kong.

The airline would also win another series of firsts in Russia. It would be the first to have a frequent flyer program, the first to earn FAA approval, and the first to operate a Boeing 747 in Russia (acquired second-hand from Virgin Atlantic).

But perhaps one of the most fascinating firsts of this airline was the fact that it was the first (and only) Russian airline to order the Airbus A380

The Airbus A380 order

Transaero was ambitious. With nine Boeing 747-400s already in its fleet, it saw a future of long-haul high-density routes utilizing the biggest possible aircraft. When the airline was trying to decide on its next generation of large-capacity aircraft, it wanted to order the Boeing 747-8I or to go with the Airbus A380.

A Transaero Boeing 747-400. Photo: Aktug Ates via Wikipedia

In 2011, the airline decided to split the proposed order down the middle and order four of the new Boeing 747-8I and four of the proven Airbus A380. Deliveries of the new A380 were expected to begin in 2015.

Where would the A380s have flown?

Unlike other carriers that ordered the A380, such as Qantas or Emirates, Transaero had plans to operate the A380 on domestic routes. The airline wanted to use one of the A380s for transcontinental routes from Moscow to Vladivostok, with the others operating to New York’s JFK.

“Currently, services to the region are operated using different equipment. In summer 2015, services will also be operated using the largest aircraft in the world, the A380, and our runway can accommodate this,” Transaero said to CH-Aviation in 2015. “Transaero Airlines is acquiring two such aircraft, they will be used on services to Vladivostok and New York JFK.” 

747 Transaero
Transaero also operated a Boeing 747 on the Moscow to JFK route. Pictured one with a tiger livery on the nose. Photo: Getty Images

Whether or not there was enough demand on these routes (and Transaero certainly planned the capacity for it as you will read below), we will never know.

Looking at where the airline operated its Boeing 747s, likely the A380 might have seen additional services to London, Miami and perhaps even to Beijing.

How would the A380s be configured?

The A380s were set out to in a much higher density configuration than fellow A380 airlines like Singapore or ANA. They would seat 652 passengers in three classes, twelve Imperial (first) Class suites, twenty-four business class flatbeds, and then a huge 616 economy seats.

To put this into perspective, this would have been the densest A380 ever built at that time. Even Emirates with their two-class A380s (economy and business class) would only have just over 600 seats onboard. If Transaero decided to use two classes, who’s to say they would not have reached up to 700 seats on board.

We can’t say for sure if the first class suites would be as extensive as, say, Singapore Airlines. But, due to the high density of the cabins, it is likely they would have been in a 1-2-1 configuration and have looked like the first class onboard its 777-300 aircraft.

The first-class suite as seen onboard a Transaero Boeing 777-300. Photo: Alex Beltyukov via Wikipedia

What happened to the airline?

Alas, despite being so close to receiving its first Airbus A380 in 2015, the airline itself never quite made it. By March 2015, only a few months before it was expected to take ownership of its first A380 (and Boeing 747-8Is) the airline had stacked up a debt of around $1.24bn (approximately 77 billion Russian Rubles).

Being no small sum and the Russian economy starting to wane, Transaero informed Airbus that it would be deferring delivery of the A380 to 2016 (or beyond) until it could shore up its finances.

At the IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit in June 2015, the president of Airbus, Fabrice Brégier said to The National,

“I’m sure we will meet the target to deliver the A380s to Transaero. The problem is that they are facing a difficult economic situation because of the rouble’s devaluation and a shrinking market for tourism from Russia.”

The chance to fix its finances would never come, and the airline’s debt would balloon to $4.39bn (260 billion Rubles) by September 2015. After several failed rescue attempts the airline would declare bankruptcy and have its certificate revoked by October 2015.

The aircraft in the fleet would be split up and sent different ways. Some aircraft would go to Aeroflot and become the backbone of its widebody fleet,; others ended up with S7. As for its replacement Boeing 747-8I aircraft that were due to be delivered, the two that were built were mothballed until being repurposed into the next generation of Air Force One aircraft for the US Government. 

The new Boeing 747-8I used for Air Force One. Photo: Boeing

Of course, the real question is whatever happened to the A380s that were ordered?

What happened to the A380s?

Three of the four A380s were rerouted in the Airbus order book away from Transaero to an airline called ‘Air Accord’. This airline doesn’t really exist and information on how it would have used the A380 is sketchy at best.

The A380s themselves were likely never built. Parts from them could have ended up in the A380s of Emirates or ANA (as they were the only other A380s being built at the same time) but we can never know for sure.

What do you think? Would you have liked to have flown on the Transaero A380? Let us know in the comments.