The A380 superjumbo takes to the skies again

(CNN) — The post-pandemic recovery of commercial aviation may have an early and unlikely protagonist: the A380 superjumbo.

The world’s largest passenger plane appeared to be destined for scrap just two years ago as airlines grappled with the spread of the coronavirus. The entire fleet was grounded, many of the planes were placed in long-term storage, and some airlines even took the opportunity to get rid of their A380s entirely, with the retirement of the Air France fleet. in May 2020.

But now, as passenger numbers rise and air traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels, the plane is enjoying a resurgence. More than half of the world fleet is already back in service, according to data from Flightradar24.

Emirates has the largest fleet of A380s in the world.
Credit: Pascal Pavani/AFP via Getty Images

Lufthansa is the latest airline to announce the plane’s return, albeit not before 2023, and there’s reason to believe more A380s will take to the skies again over time.

“It’s definitely making a comeback,” says Geoff Van Klaveren, aviation analyst and chief advisory officer at the IBA. “Operators were quite reluctant to bring it back because it’s a very expensive aircraft, but I think we’ve seen demand pick up faster than people expected.”

come back more

Airbus built and delivered 251 A380s, of which 238 are still in service, and the rest have been retired or scrapped. The plane, which is no longer in production, is popular with passengers and crews, but not with airlines: only 14 have operated it to date.

Of these, nine are currently being flown by British Airways, All Nippon Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Qatar, Asiana, Korean Airlines and China Southern Airlines. Some of them already have plans to bring more of their A380s back into service.

Singapore Airlines, for example, currently flies 10 A380s out of its fleet of 12, but confirmed to CNN Travel that the remaining two are undergoing refits and will re-enter the fleet soon. Korean Airlines also stated that it will bring back a third A380 from its fleet of 10, to join the two already in service.

Qantas, which operates three of its 12 A380s on the Sydney-Singapore-London route, confirmed to CNN Travel that it aims to have a total of six back in service before the end of the year, with a plan to bring a further four back before the end of the year. 2024 (the remaining two will be definitively withdrawn).

Emirates, the largest operator of the A380, with 123 aircraft, is also preparing. “Today we operate […] than half of our A380s,” says Richard Jewsbury, Emirates’ UK division vice president. “By the end of the year, we aim to operate close to 90 A380s across our network.” That means more than a dozen More A380s will join those currently flying.

The last A380 produced, at the end of 2021, was for Emirates. It is one of the few Emirates A380s to include a premium economy section, a midpoint between basic economy and business class.

It has proven popular enough that the airline plans to retrofit a further 67 of its A380s with it, over the course of 18 months and starting later this year. In that configuration, with four classes (first, business, premium economy and economy), the plane has a capacity for 484 passengers. In the densest configuration, with two classes, business only and economy, the Emirates A380 has a capacity of 615 passengers.

hard to sell

There are several reasons why airlines are turning to the superjumbo. “There is a lack of wide-body capacity as some carriers such as British Airways have retired older aircraft such as the Boeing 747. There have also been some production issues with the new A350 etc. So some airlines need the capacity,” says Van Klaveren.

Thats not all. For some airlines, putting the plane back in service makes sense because the value of the planes has fallen so low that they can no longer be sold.

“Some operators have found that it is a very difficult aircraft to sell, for many different reasons. If they don’t have any A380s, they are definitely not going to add it to their fleet, because it is very risky and expensive,” says Van Klaveren.

“The value of a 10-year-old A380 fell 60% compared to pre-pandemic times, to $30 million versus about $76 million, which is quite extraordinary. So many [aerolíneas] they think it’s better to operate them, because it costs them money to keep them airworthy.

Two airlines, Thai and Malaysian, have put all their A380s up for sale, but have yet to find buyers. The only other company holding out is Etihad; the Abu Dhabi-based airline has 10 in its fleet, but is operating none and currently has no firm plans to do so.

a shorter life

to 380

Emirates recently launched a new A380 cabin that includes a premium economy class. Credit: The Emirates Group

Compared to the bleak predictions of two years ago, now might be the time to envision a brighter future for the superjumbo.

“I think most airlines will continue to operate aircraft until the end of their useful life,” says Van Klaveren. “The question is whether that life is more like 18 years and not 25, which is the lifespan of most aircraft. Compared to new generation aircraft, it’s really not particularly energy efficient. fuel, so that would suggest their average age will be lower.

As Emirates has so many A380s, the fate of the aircraft will be largely in their hands. “I think they will fly them again, because they are so important to their business model,” says Van Klaveren.

The Dubai-based airline continues to show enthusiastic support for the aircraft.

Tim Clark, Chairman of Emirates, declared to AirlineRatings that once the A380 is gone, it will leave a void that cannot be filled by any other aircraft currently in production: “I would build another A380 twice the size thanks to the zero emission engines we have now, with four, possibly three engines” , he added.

For now, the A380 remains well received by customers around the world and will remain the airline’s flagship aircraft for many years to come, says Emirates’ Richard Jewsbury.

“For us, the iconic double-decker redefines the travel experience and will continue to be a vital pillar of our network plans.”

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