More and more airlines are retiring their A380 going forward. But some airline remains bullish about the superjumbo’s future. Which airlines will continue flying the A380 in the future?
- Emirates remains the largest A380 operator with 121 aircraft
- Demand for second-hand A380 remains non-existant
Why the A380 program is ending
On 17 October 2007, something big was landing at Singapore Changi Airport. Singapore Airlines was the launch customer and the Airbus A380 superjumbo rolled out onto the ramp with a water cannon salute by the fire trucks to welcome the aircraft. Photographers and videographers from all over the world could not get enough of the massive aircraft.
The A380 superjumbo had 251 orders, with the largest from Emirates with 123 orders and Singapore Airlines a far second with only 24 orders. The program, which cost $19.4 billion, was forecasted by Airbus to at least break even but it fell short, with airlines canceling their orders altogether or thinking twice before buying the aircraft.
Apart from airlines that have ordered the A380 before it was launched, Airbus only managed to attract a new customer, ANA, to buy three A380 aircraft in 2016 and sales went flat onwards until 2019 when Airbus decided to end the program due to a lack of orders.
The problem lies with not a lack of orders, but both Airbus and Boeing came out with more fuel-efficient twin-engine wide-body aircrafts such as the A350XWB and 787 Dreamliner which sit well with most airlines as they are easier to be filled all year-round instead of the A380.
The end of the A380 for airlines
In 2020, Air France declared that it would accelerate the retirement of the entire A380 fleet immediately instead of 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, being the first airline with an active fleet to phase out the superjumbo with the reason being that it was too costly to maintain and upgrade the interiors.
With the pandemic at its peak and barely sufficient passengers to warrant operating the A380, all airlines temporarily ground their A380 and take the opportunity to decide whether the superjumbo has a place in the future.
Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, and Thai Airways have decided to retire the A380 fleet, while Asiana and Korean Air have indicated that it will phase out all quad-jets within 5 to 7 years.
On the other hand, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines are bringing back only half of their A380 fleet at 5 and 12 respectively while Qantas will take five of its A380 from storage for its flights to London Heathrow from July 2022.
Singapore Airlines has already scrapped two Airbus A380 and one Boeing 777-200ER aircraft locally at Changi Exhibition Centre, a site which hosts the biennial Singapore Airshow since 2008.
British Airways and China Southern are operating the A380 fleet as per normal although they remain undecided whether to keep the A380 flying in the long run.
Lessors are not keeping the A380 for long
With the return of the first four early-built A380 from Singapore Airlines to Dr. Peters Group after their 10-year lease is up in 2018, the group manage to find a lessee, Hi Fly Malta, who became the first airline to acquire two A380 second-hand for a three-year lease.
The Group hoped that there would be a second-hand market for the superjumbo, alas it was not to be. They failed to find buyers for the two other A380, opting instead to strip the aircraft of valuable equipment and scrap the aircraft.
In a further blow to the Group, they received more used A380 from Air France, who retired the fleet in 2020, and from Hi Fly Malta, when it opted not to renew the lease in 2021.
Who will continue flying the A380 into the next decade
With an average age span of 15 years for the Airbus A380, most airlines such as Singapore Airlines, British Airlines, and Qatar Airways would have retired the superjumbo by then, usually before their scheduled second ‘D’ check since the check itself would cost millions of dollars.
ANA received three A380 aircraft in 2021, which were originally intended for SkyMark Airlines but were not taken up. The superjumbo is used solely on the Tokyo Narita to Honolulu flights as there is a high population of Japanese residing there.
With Emirates receiving the last A380 aircraft in 2022, the Dubai-based airline is expected to fly the A380 up until 2040, after which it will receive a water cannon salute for the last time, signaling the closure of an era.
Boeing 777X will be the closest competitor to the A380
With the first 777X aircraft from rival Boeing available for passenger service from late 2023, the newer aircraft is expected to carry up to 426 passengers, half of what the A380 can carry with 853 passengers but with better fuel burn due to better engine design.
Furthermore, the 777X can fit into any existing code ‘E’ or ‘F’ parking stands without needing to modify or build new gates to accommodate the aircraft due to its ‘folding’ wingtip design which allows the aircraft’s wingspan to stay within the 65.02m limit when parking at a code ‘E’ stand with the tip folded up.
It is clear that twin-engine will be the future of commercial aviation while quad-engine remains the backbone of freight airlines, well except the A380.