With over 40 major airlines around the world grounding their entire fleets and many others suspending more than 90% of flights, the last few weeks has seen several airlines retire larger widebody aircraft earlier than planned.
Last week the Dutch national airline KLM retired their last Boeing 747 jumbo jets early and Virgin Atlantic has already brought forward the retirement of their a340-600 aircraft.
An Airbus A380 of German airline Lufthansa rolls over a bridge after it landed at the airport in … [+]
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One of the most popular passenger planes over recent years has been the a380 double-decker superjumbo.
However, Airbus announced in 2019 that production of the world’s largest passenger plane ever built is due to end in 2021. A weak backlog of orders has meant that the a380 program simply did not have the customers or demand from airlines to warrant continuing production.
KLM retired their last 7 Boeing 747 aircraft early in March. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing Jumbo … [+]
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Before the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, air travel demand was set to continue to increase globally, led by substantial increases in demand from China and India particularly. Airbus hoped that more airlines would order the a380 to not only consolidate routes with high demand but also to alleviate pressure on congested airports around the world.
The a380 can carry up to 853 passengers in an all-economy layout, but most airlines have opted for a three-cabin configuration of around 525 passengers on average. This is about 100-150 more passengers than the next largest jets, the Boeing 747-8 and the 777-300.
An Airbus A340-600 operated by Virgin Atlantic advancing on the taxiway after touching down at Hong … [+]
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However, with the exception of Emirates, who ordered over 100 a380s, the superjumbo did not sell anywhere near as well as Airbus was hoping, which led to the program being scrapped.
The main concern for airlines was that operating flights with over 500 seats was too great a risk. Granted, when the a380 was completely full the aircraft generated huge profits, however, if seats were not sold on flights, the aircraft quickly sustained heavy losses.
Emirates Airbus A380 shown landing at London Heathrow International Airport LHR / EGLL in England, … [+]
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Most airlines preferred to operate increased frequencies on smaller aircraft that allowed more flexibility and less potential downside risk to operating flights with empty seats.
In March, The International Air Transport Association warned that airlines may lose $113 billion in sales in 2020 due to COVID-19. With increased groundings and lack of clarity on the aviation market since this statement, that number is set to increase.
Therefore, the future of the a380 in the short term looks bleak. Many airlines are currently requesting government support and fighting for survival, and when international routes do start opening up again, it is highly likely that some of the weaker airlines that operate the a380 will be in no rush to re-introduce the aircraft to service.
A Union flag flies above a hangar as a British Airways operated Airbus A380 passenger jet is moved … [+]
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Emirates currently operates 115 a380 superjumbo, and the aircraft is the mainstay of the airlines fleet. Although some a380s may now be retired early by Emirates if passenger demand doesn’t robustly bounce back, the airline is certain to continue to operate the aircraft.
British Airways will also very likely continue to operate the a380 on major routes from London. These would include high demand routes such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Los Angeles. The U.K. airline could also potentially consolidate flights onto larger aircraft for high-frequency routes such as London Heathrow to New York JFK, which sees as many as 12 flights per day. Currently, many of these flights are operated on less fuel-efficient and older Boeing 747 and 777 aircraft which the carrier could also retire early. With British Airways’ largest long-haul domestic competitor, Virgin Atlantic, struggling financially, I would also expect there to be few concerns with British Airways filling seats on their a380 superjumbos.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: A Qantas A380 lands at Sydney Airport on March 25, 2020 in Sydney, … [+]
The only other obvious candidate to continue operating the a380 is the Australian carrier Qantas. Although the airline has asked the Australian government for financial support, it is unlikely that the a380 would be removed from the prize “kangaroo route” that links Sydney and London, or other lucrative U.S. West Coast routes such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Apart from those three airlines, many of the other a380 operators could well retire the aircraft early. The prime concern will be their ability to fill over 500 seats with uncertainty over demand.
Three additional airlines that will still likely operate the a380 are Singapore Airlines, Etihad and Qatar Airways. The reason being is that these aircraft showcase these carriers highest quality product and all three airlines receive government backing. They would have the ability to fly the a380 again through a period of weaker demand. All three of the aforementioned airlines have either onboard bars or lavish first class suites on their a380 aircraft. Operating the a380 is as much of a marketing tool as is it a profitability tool for Singapore Airlines, Etihad and Qatar.
A Singapore Airlines A-380 Airbus aircraft on the runway at Sydney’s main international airport, … [+]
However, some obvious candidates could be set to retire the a380 early, or at the very least ground the aircraft for the foreseeable future.
Air France was already in the process of scraping its oldest a380 jets before the coronavirus outbreak spread across the world. Similarly, Malaysia Airlines attempted to sell its six a380 aircraft in 2018, but after no buyers were found the struggling airline has mostly been operating the superjumbo on Hajj pilgrimage flights.
It would come as little surprise to see both Air France and Malaysia Airlines grounding their a380 when international flights resume, and Korean Air, Thai Airways, Lufthansa and Asiana are also likely contenders to ground the jet for the foreseeable future. the a380 makes up a small part of these airlines fleets with Asiana and Thai operating just six of the double-decker plane and Lufthansa operating 14 aircraft.
An Airbus A380 operated by Korean Air taxis on the tarmac at Vaclav Havel airport. Korean Air has … [+]
China Southern is the only other operator of the a380, and although the airline has struggled for several years to fill the aircraft on routes away from the U.S. West coast, the Chinese airline would likely be able to utilise the aircraft on domestic routes in China for the foreseeable future.
Therefore, it could well be that nearly half the a380 operators may not fully re-introduce their a380 aircraft when global travel resumes.