With the fuselage and tail sections of the final Airbus A380 order delivered to Toulouse recently for assembly, we’ve known for a while that the future of the super jumbo aircraft was limited.
Built at a time when it was expected that aircraft sizes would keep getting bigger, it fulfilled its potential as the passenger aircraft with the largest capacity.
But airline orders were limited and many airlines that had shown initial interest soon cancelled orders or failed to commit.
Earlier this year we saw the sad sight of the first Airbus A380s being scrapped. The former Singapore Airlines examples had found their way to Tarbes-Lourdes Airport in France and were being stripped of parts and scrapped.
Now, with the coronavirus in full swing, the global downturn in air travel and expected recession has caused airlines to park their A380s or send them to storage and scrap yards, with their futures looking uncertain.
It has caused many in the industry and enthusiasts the world over to wonder what is the future of the A380?
What Have Airlines Done With Their A380s?
At the time of writing, only China Southern Airlines were still flying their Airbus A380s regularly.
All other airlines have parked the type for the time being, with the likes of Air France and Lufthansa sending their A380s to long-term storage locations, like Tarbes-Lourdes and Teruel.
Qantas has also parked most of its fleet, but kept a few ready for active duty.
British Airways has sent most of its A380s to Chateauroux in France, and other airlines like Asiana, ANA, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Korean Air, Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines have parked their jets at their home bases pending a decision on their future.
Emirates and the A380
By far the largest operator of the Airbus A380 is Dubai’s Emirates Airline. It has 115 of the type in its fleet, with some of its earlier aircraft recently grounded at Dubai before the coronavirus hit.
Emirates was the carrier that almost single-handedly kept the A380 dream alive, using them on anything from short hops to its longest routes to Asia and North America.
However, the airline has since announced it will likely be cutting 30,000 jobs and is considering accelerating the retirement of its A380 jets. This was hinted at recently when the airline’s boss, Tim Clark, claimed “the A380 is over”.
OneMileAtATime quotes that Emirates could retire at least 46 Airbus A380s imminently.
This news comes as the final aircraft, destined for Emirates, has yet to be delivered. This is currently planned for 2021.
Such large capacity is hard to fill, or even justify, in a world where air travel has reduced to almost negligible levels and seems like it will take years to recover.
The cost of keeping and flying such large aircraft is hard for airlines like Emirates to justify.
Will I Still be Able to Fly on an A380?
No announcement has been made by Emirates about actually retiring the type yet, or about cancelling remaining deliveries, so it can be assumed that they will return them to the skies once the coronavirus outbreak subsides to a suitable level.
The airline’s trunk routes, such as Dubai to London Heathrow, certainly justified 5 daily A380s prior to the virus, so it can be assumed at least part of that demand will return eventually.
As for other airlines, I would guess that at least China Southern, Qantas and Singapore Airlines would return their A380s to flight at least in the short term.
It also seems likely that ANA All Nippon Airways will return its recently-delivered A380s to its prime Honolulu leisure route at the earliest opportunity if it’s safe to do so.
It may be, however, that the likes of Air France, Lufthansa and Korean Air look to retire the type permanently with immediate effect.
It would be a shame for Etihad’s Residence cabin to be lost, or for the sight of the huge super jumbo to never be seen from our favourite spotting locations again.
The future of long-haul flying is likely to centre around more recent, efficient types like the Airbus A350, Boeing 787 and upcoming 777X, which offer flexibility, a decent capacity and cheaper running costs.