The Airbus A380 - the largest passenger plane in the world - started flying into the sunset this week, with the news that parts for the last ever super jumbo were delivered to an assembly plant in southwest France.
In normal times, the double-deck Airbus A380 operates more than 300 commercial flights per day, which take off or land around the world every two minutes. A true icon of aviation, each aircraft weighs more than 500 tonnes and has four million parts.
While A380 production will end in 2021, 14 years after the first one entered service, a number of global airlines have the massive planes in their fleets. Though this means you should be able to fly on one in the future, some airlines have already announced plans to retire their biggest jets.
Today’s article provides a summary on the latest announcements about the A380 from airlines around the world.
The future of Lufthansa’s fleet of A380-800 aircraft is now in serious doubt, following an update from Klaus Froese, who runs Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub. This week he revealed:
“In Frankfurt, the chance that we will again operate any A380 is close to zero. That’s all but decided. In Munich we will have to see. Planning is very difficult in these times.”
The airline plans to mothball its A380s for at least two years, though that may be a permanent move if global demand for air travel fails to return to pre-crisis levels.
The glimmer of hope that the A380 may return to Munich stems from the fact that Lufthansa owns part of a terminal there, and therefore has lower costs than it does at Frankfurt.
There has been no announcement from British Airways, which has a fleet of 12 A380-800s, though Simple Flying picked up on one piece of good news which appears to suggest that BA intends to keep the A380 flying.
Earlier this month, the carrier flew one of its super jumbos to Manila in order to carry out heavy maintenance on the plane. As Simple Flying points out, such maintenance work costs millions of dollars, and it seems unlikely BA would shell out that sort of money if it was thinking of ditching its biggest planes.
At least for now, BA plans to fly its A380s next year, and Guru has a booking for next April which currently shows the plane flying from London to San Francisco.
If you can’t get enough of all things A380, check out BA Captain Dave Wallsworth’s page on Twitter, where he posts anecdotes, technical information about the aircraft and links to fantastic videos filmed from the cockpit, like this one:
No other airline is more associated with the A380 than Emirates, which famously installed private suites and opulent bathrooms including showers (a world first) on its super jumbos.
By far the largest operator of the A380, Emirates has 155 of the massive planes in its fleet, with eight more pending delivery. Last month, however, coronavirus prompted Emirates president Tim Clark to conclude that it's “over” for big jets like the A380 and the Boeing 747.
According to Bloomberg, Emirates is in discussions with Airbus to cancel five of its eight new A380s. The airline is also said to be considering the early retirement of as many as 65 of its existing A380s.
The other big UAE airline, Etihad, is considering permanently grounding its fleet of ten A380s, according to Reuters.
The state-owned airline has long been in financial difficulty, but scrapping the A380 would be a big call for Etihad, which gained international recognition for its first class Apartments and its even more opulent, three-room The Residence, complete with en-suite shower room, private bedroom and separate sleeping area.
It’s all over for the A380 at Air France, which has announced the “definitive end” of its super jumbo operations.
The nine jets were planned to be phased out by 2022, but that has been brought forward and Air France says it will never fly its A380s again.
“Airbus A380 will be replaced by new generation aircraft, including Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, whose deliveries are ongoing,” the carrier said.
Things aren't looking too bright for the A380 at Qatar Airways, either. Akbar Al Baker, the airline’s outspoken group chief executive told Flight Global this week:
“The entire A380 fleet will not fly for at least a year if not more, because we don’t see that there is any market for an A380-sized aircraft. It will only be a miracle if we operated some of those aeroplanes earlier, depending on how the rebound in air travel will come.”
Qatar has ten A380s (all currently in storage) which feature an onboard lounge, where first and business class passengers can relax while they are served drinks and snacks.
Though it looks unlikely that all ten will return to the skies, Mr Al Baker did hint that some may do so, telling Flight Global: “I don’t think we will need more than a maximum of seven aircraft in the near term. We have already shelved the plan to upgrade the product until they retire from the fleet. The oldest aircraft is only six years old so we still have another four years for its use.”
Despite the fact that Airbus is building the last ever A380, there should be an opportunity to fly the world’s biggest passenger jet in future as there are still a good number of them in service.
That said, airlines around the world are contemplating, or even going ahead with, plans to retire their super jumbos - so it’s definitely worth trying to get booked on an A380 flight before its too late and another chapter of aviation history closes.
What’s your experience of flying the Airbus A380? Do you have good memories of the world’s biggest passenger plane?