Although the news was in the air for some time, the decision of Air France to retire all its Airbus A380s with immediate effect deals another blow to the future of the type. With even loyal operator Emirates reconsidering early retirements by the dozens, the double-decker has a very different post-Covid 19 operational life ahead.
By late March there were some 237 A380’s around in flight-worthy condition, one parted out definitively, four in deep storage, and nine new ones still to be delivered. As the worldwide long-haul network crumbled as a consequence of Covid-restrictions, most A380s have been in storage. The most active operator has been China Southern, but Emirates has all 115 aircraft on the ground.
What is the status of the A380 with its various operators? Let’s find out.
Air France confirmed on May 20 that it has decided to retire all its nine remaining A380s with immediate effect. The airline had planned to phase out the type gradually until the end of 2022 but “in the context of the current Covid-10 crisis and its impact on anticipated activity levels” this has been brought forward. Air France will take a EUR 500 million write-down on its A380-fleet which is additional to the 25 million depreciation reported in Q1.
Air France had operated ten A380s between November 2009 and March 23 2020, with F-HPJA the first arriving in October 2009 and HPJJ the last in June 2014. Five aircraft (HPJA, HPJC, HPJF, HPJH, HPJI) are owned of under financial lease, while four more (HPJD, HPJE, HPJG, HPJJ) are under operating lease from Dr. Peters Group. The lessor also owns HPJB, which was returned to her last January and is in deep storage in Ireland.
In April, Air France placed four A380s in deep storage. On April 23, HPJC flew from Abu Dhabi straight to Tarbes (France), joined by HPJE on the 28th. On the 26th, HPJG and HPJF went to Teruel (Spain).
In its ten years of operations, Air France suffered two serious incidents with its A380s. In September 2017, HPJE suffered an uncontained engine failure over Groenland in which the entire fan and fan case on engine 4 came off. In March 2019, HPJC had a fan blade issue on the climb over Ivory Coast. Both incidents are still under investigation but seem to have a common factor: metal fatigue within the hub that had gone undetected.
Lufthansa A380 AIMB, seen here in Frankfurt in April (Lufthansa)
Lufthansa announced on April 7 that it will retire six of its fourteen A380s permanently with immediate effect as the airline prepares for a smaller post-Covid operation. Like Air France, this too is a change of plans as Lufthansa originally agreed to trade in the six newest A380s with Airbus from 2021 for new A350s.
On May 20, German media reported that even a seventh A380 will be retired and all A380s will be operated from Munich only.
The airline continued to operate the type according to schedule until March 28, when all A380s were parked in Frankfurt and Munich. Early April, three aircraft were active on special repatriation flights to Auckland via Bangkok, a destination not served by Lufthansa. On April 28, AIMG was the first sent to Teruel airport in Spain for storage. AIMF, AIMJ, AIMK, AIMN, AIMA, and AIMB have joined her until May 13. Some will stay there for deep storage, others will return to service once demand justifies operating the A380 again.
Lufthansa Technik will convert an A380 for an undisclosed customer into a cargo-plane, although this won’t be a full passenger-to-freighter conversion as seen with other types. Seats will be taken out and some modifications made to accept cargo within the cabin.
EmiratesEmirates has been the reason for the existence of the A380 as the airline is the type’s biggest operator with 115 aircraft. It will be in the foreseeable future but not at the levels we had expected only last March.
This week, Bloomberg ran two A380-related stories. In the first, it quoted sources that say Emirates will retire 46 A380s. The second on May 20, it reports that Emirates is in talks with Airbus about the cancelation of the last five of eight new aircraft on order. The airline seems willing to accept only three more which are already in various stages of cabin outfitting in Hamburg. The remaining five are in assembly in Toulouse, with the last ever aircraft (MSN272) about to enter body-join.
For this reason, Airbus is said to be unwilling to cancel the order as it would have five unfinished aircraft that are unlikely to be sold in the current market environment.
If Emirates cancels the last five, it will have taken delivery of 118 A380s since the first one joined in 2007. Until February 2019, there were even 162 in the order book, but this order was revised at the Dubai Airshow when the airline selected 50 A350-900s instead.
All A380s stopped all passenger services from March 25. Only A6-EOG did a service since then, flying to London Heathrow on April 5. On May 21, Emirates had parked 71 A380s at Dubai World Central and 44 at DXB, some of them in regular maintenance.
Emirates has placed all its 115 A380s in storage. This is Dubai World Central, where 71 are parked.
The Australian airline has parked all its A380s on March 30, after it announced a 90 percent reduction in international services in the previous week. It continued to operate to London via Darwin instead of Singapore in the past week as well as to Los Angeles and Dallas, but these were kind of repatriation flights.
Qantas has three in for maintenance: VH-OQD, for a tech check, OQG for a cabin makeover. OQI was sent to Dresden for a cabin make-over on the 23rd and did a 19 hours 16 minutes flight from Sydney, the longest ever by an A380. In January, Qantas did a similar long flight the other way round to capture valuable data for the Project Sunrise long-haul project. OQJ and OQF are in Los Angeles.
An April 5, Airinsight heard an unconfirmed rumor from a source within Qantas that the airline is studying a post-Covid scenario that includes a return to service of only half the A380 fleet. Only six of the aircraft would re-enter the schedule and only the ones with the updated cabin.
China SouthernChina Southern has become the most active A380 operator since April. In the first months of the year until April, all five aircraft were stored in Guangzhou. On March 19, B-6139 was the first to operate a service again from Guangzhou to Los Angeles and back. Since then the airline has brought back all A380s from storage.
It has operated them to LA and Sydney but also on Guangzhou-Amsterdam, Guangzhou-London, London-Chengdu, Guangzhou-Vancouver and even on the odd LA-Wuhan route.
Before Covid, China Southern used to operate the A380s on some domestic routes (especially Beijing-Guangzhou) plus to Los Angeles, Sydney, and Melbourne. It had planned to start services this summer to London Heathrow.
China Southern A380 B-6136 over Lelystad on her way from Schiphol to Guangzhou on May 1. (Richard Schuurman)
Etihad is considering retiring its ten A380s, Reuters reported on May 21 quoting anonymous sources.
The airline has suspended all flights from March 25 for two weeks, resulting in the grounding of the entire fleet. It originally planned to swap A380s for smaller Boeing 787-9s and 777s from April 1 on its A380-routes to London, Paris, New York, and Sydney but the flight of A6-API from Sydney on March 24 was the last A380-service for the time being.
All aircraft have had maintenance and interior checks and are ready to fly but economics could decide differently.
Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al-Baker said in an interview in May that his airline will likely ground all A380s permanently from now. This would be another blow to the type’s reputation just as the retirement by Air France.
Months earlier, when Covid-19 was still an unknown disease, Al Baker hinted at early retirement of its A380s by 2024 or ten years after receiving the first one.
Some three Qatar A380s are stored at Doha’s old international airport. APG arrived on March 19, APC on the 21st, and APE on the 23rd. API was in storage for a week too, but Qatar Airways kind of unexpectedly went on the offensive by saying it would operate the A380 extra to London, Frankfurt, and Perth. It operated to Sydney and Melbourne too, but by early April all A380-services were ended and aircraft stored.
Korean Air has grounded all ten A380s too. The last active service has been on March 7, but in the days before most aircraft returned to Seoul without operating new services. One A380 (HL-7615) has been out of service for maintenance. Sometimes, aircraft show up on Flightradar24, which indicates they are active in some sort of way.
Korean Air warned on March 9 that its existence depends on a quick end of the Covid-19 crisis, which stressed the severity of the impact it has on air travel to and from South Korea.
In this context it is unclear if Korean will operate the A380 again and in what numbers.
Asiana Airlines too has parked its fleet of six A380s at Seoul Incheon since March 10, having operated at limited capacity to Los Angeles and Frankfurt. On March 29/30, HL-7634 did a service to Sydney but accept for a few brief test flights the aircraft have been inactive.
Like at Korean, the future of the type is uncertain as Asiana has been in difficulty even before the pandemic struck.
Singapore has four A380s in storage in Alice Springs. (DW_Business)
Singapore Airlines has all 19 A380s on the ground since the end of March as the airline reduced capacity by over 90 percent and suspended most of its long-haul routes on which the double-decker was active.
One aircraft (9V-SKN) is having a cabin make-over while another (SKP) returned from a tech check on March 24. On April 26, Singapore flew SKT, SKW, SKY, and SKZ to Alice Springs in Australia for deep storage in the desert environment.
With Singapore unable to predict when it will resume operations, it could be a long time before we see their A380s back in the sky again.
British Airways has placed all its 12 A380s in storage too. Of these, nine are stored in France at Chateauroux airport: XLEI, XLEC, XLEA arrived on April 6, XLEF, and XLEL on April 7, XLEB, XLEJ, XLED on April 15, and XLEK on April 16.
XLEG has been in Manila for a tech check but on May 21 XLEH took her place there.
With British Airways expecting a return to pre-Covid levels not before 2022 and planning to reduce staff by 12.000, it remains to be seen what will happen to the A380 fleet.
Malaysia Airlines has been parking its A380-fleet infrequently for a few years now, having discontinued services to London and Paris. The type occasionally showed up in Tokyo.
Until March, the MAS A380s were frequent visitors to Medina to bring pilgrims to the holy places in Saudi Arabia, but pilgrimages have been suspended too as long as Covid-19 is not beaten. Two A380s (9M-MNA and MNE) are showing in storage for some time.
MND flew a repatriation flight to Cairo on April 18, while MNF was on a cargo-only service to London on the 28th. This was the first time an A380 has done such a kind of operation.
The future of the A380 with Thai Airways is most uncertain as is the future of the airline itself. It requested state aid but this was rejected in mid-May, so the management has to search for new options to attract funding.
As for the A380s, Thai had continued to operate all six until April 1, when HS-TUC did the last service to and from Frankfurt. Unconfirmed reports say that Thai is considering phasing out the A380s early as it expects the type to be too big for its future needs.
The HiFly A380 did a tour around the world between May 15-17. (HiFly)
Wet-lease operator HiFly has only one A380, which is the former Singapore 9V-SKC. In February, she was used for two evacuation flights from Wuhan to Europe before going to Tarbes on March 5 for a month-long B-check with Tarmac-Aerosave.
Back in action, she did a trip around the world from her base in Beja (Portugal) to Tianjin (China) and Sana Domingo (Dominican Republic) between May 15-17, before returning home again.
On arrival of the first A380 in June 2018, HiFly said it was interested in adding another A380 to its fleet. It has repeated this later but nothing has happened since. If still interested, the Portuguese airline might have plenty of A380s to chose from on the secondhand market.
All Nippon Airways:
Despite the severe impact of Covid-19, ANA’s two A380s had been operating according to schedule to Hawaii. This changed by late March as Hawaii implemented a strict ban on international air travel. From March 25 ANA has suspended services to Honolulu and has kept the two sea turtle-A380s parked at Tokyo Narita since.
The third and final brand-new A380 for ANA had just started its pre-delivery test program in preparation for delivery in April, but this has been postponed until October.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.