No airline in the world is quite so synonymous with the A380 as Emirates. While other airlines fly a handful, Emirates flies more than 100. Even now, as Airbus prepares to end the production of the giant jumbo, Emirates still sings its praises. How has Emirates done so well with the biggest plane in the world?
A big white elephant
For a great big plane with great big potential, the A380 is viewed as something of a white elephant. Despite bringing to the market the largest passenger capacity of any aircraft, not to mention some of the latest and best technology of its time, the A380 failed to sell.
Since the first A380 was delivered to Singapore Airlines in 2007, only 14 airlines ever ordered the type. Of the 251 orders place (and not cancelled), 50% went to Emirates. No other airline really took u the mantle of the A380 in such a big way, the closest being Singapore with its 24 aircraft, a far cry from the 123 in operation by Emirates today.
Now, with Airbus ending production and airlines racing to retire the type, the A380 is on borrowed time. So why, when other airlines can’t wait to get rid of the giant jumbo, is Emirates doing so well?
How did Emirates make the A380 work?
Emirates’ CEO Tim Clark is a massive fan of the A380. He claims that it was not a white elephant at all, but rather it’s the airlines to blame who are not using the aircraft to the best of its ability. In an interview with Airline Ratings, he said,
“The A380 was a misfit for Air France. They never scaled; they only have ten aircraft. Yes, we faced the same teething problems, but we dealt with them because we were scaled enough to deal with it. If you’ve got a sub fleet of 10 it’s a bloody nightmare and the costs go through the roof, she is absolutely right. But if you got a hundred of them it’s a bit different. Your unit costs in operating with that number are a lot lower than having just ten.”
So, part of the reason the A380 works so well for Emirates is because its invested in having a massive fleet. Economies of scale certainly come into play here, not just by allowing Emirates to negotiate a lower price for the aircraft in the first place, but also in terms of spare parts, crew training and everything else that goes along with operating an airline.
The way the airline operates the aircraft is impressive too, laying on multiple services to high demand destinations. Dubai to London Heathrow, for example, sees eight flights a day by Emirates’ A380s. As a heavily slot restricted airport, the airline would be missing out on traffic if it wasn’t for having such a huge plane to use.
The basic reason that the A380 is so good for Emirates comes down to its unique business model. Emirates has soared on the basis of providing a hub and spoke service to passengers traveling between east and west. Helped by the position of its hub in Dubai, the airline largely operates on only the densest markets, where even the A380 can be filled with ease.
The planned retirement
In the Airline Ratings interview, Mr. Clark went on to say that Emirates planned to retire its first A380s this year, in 2020. Two have already been removed from service but Emirates has a cunning plan for these retiring birds also.
Back in September last year, Clark told Flight Global how the airline plans to maximize value from the A380, even after it’s retired. He said,
“We are in the process of [starting A380 retirements]. Two have been deactivated. They are under retirement because we’ve got a major overhaul coming up and it’s best to take the old aircraft out – they’re all written down – and take the gear off them rather than buy a $25 million main landing gear. I need two, possibly three, to meet that [overhaul] requirement.”
So, Emirates will be using its retired A380s to provide parts for its existing fleet. That is not only a clever business decision, it’s also a very creative way to save money and keep the rest of the planes in service. Clark believes there is more value to Emirates by using them in this way, and doesn’t see that a secondhand market exists in which he could sell the plane whole.
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