Will Qantas Ever Bring Back The Airbus A380?

In its centenary year, Qantas has suspended its international flying and sent most of its long-haul fleet into retirement or long term storage. It’s probably not what the airline had in mind for its 100th birthday. One of the big decisions Qantas made this year was to park its fleet of Airbus A380s. Qantas says it expects to bring these planes back into service, but not until 2023. That’s a long way off, and a lot can happen between now and then.

A Qantas A380 taxis in Sydney last year. Photo: Getty Images

A big change for the A380s in just 12 months

This time last year, Qantas was rolling out the first of its refurbished A380s, a program that was slated to be completed by the end of this year. By then, with the Boeing 747s due to be retired, Qantas would have a uniform cabin product across its international twin-aisle fleet.

Six of the A380s were refurbished before Qantas pulled the plug on that idea. The most recently refurbished A380 only flew in August from the Airbus facility in Germany to the storage airport in Victorville, California.

There, it joins the other 12 Airbus A380s belonging to Qantas. They’ve gone to Victorville for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Qantas believes the climate there is better for stored aircraft than closer locations. Secondly, Qantas has a big A380 maintenance facility at LAX, just a couple of hours’ drive away. It’s easy to keep an eye on the planes at Victorville.

How long will the A380s stay there? Speaking four months ago, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said;

“There is significant uncertainty as to when flying levels will support its 12 Airbus A380s. These assets will be idle for the foreseeable future, which represents a significant percentage of their remaining useful life.”

Mr Joyce was speaking about depreciating the planes. He’d just made a call to write the A380s and all associated inventory and equipment down to fair value. The Qantas boss was busy trying to save the airline, and at the time, he said the A380s wouldn’t be back in the air for three years.

Qantas says the Airbus A380 may not fly for at least three years. Photo: Getty Images

Likely outcome? A smaller A380 fleet to fewer destinations

Many pundits expect Qantas will not fly the A380 again. My view is, Qantas probably will fly the A380 again, but less of them to fewer destinations.

It’s highly likely Qantas will decide to retire the unrefurbished A380s and keep the six refurbished planes. The success of the A380 on the route between Dallas Fort Worth and Sydney suggests there is a role for the A380 on certain routes.

Walking a fine line between maintaining daily frequencies and operating only six A380s means the roster of destination cities will get trimmed. Long-haul routes out of Sydney, such as those to London, Los Angeles, and Dallas, might keep the A380s. Shorter medium-haul routes, such as Sydney to Hong Kong and Melbourne to Singapore, might well lose their former A380 service in favor of Dreamliners.

If 2020 has proved anything, it’s that the best laid long term plans can go belly up very quickly. Qantas are canny operators and would have multiple scenarios mapped out. While Mr Joyce is currently tempering expectations surrounding the A380 and giving a three-year time line, a lot can happen in three years.