“Too big, too expensive to operate, an anachronism” – these are some of the verdicts on the A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft.
Shortly after the A380 first took fare-paying passengers aboard a Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Sydney in October 2007, the world’s airlines fell in love with it.
The massive weight of the four-engine behemoth made it a gas guzzler, and when oil prices skyrocketed, the A380 looked like a dinosaur. Airlines that signed for the superjumbo canceled orders. Launch customer Singapore Airlines was among the first to become disillusioned, scrapping its first A380 after barely a decade in service.
When the pandemic hit, most of the world’s A380 fleet was put out to pasture in the deserts of the western US and at the Asia-Pacific aircraft storage facility near Alice Springs. Some in the airline industry wondered if those mothballed A380s would ever find a place in the skies again.
For many flyers, this was a blow. Traveling on board the A380 has always been exciting. It’s super smooth, quiet unless you’re at the stern, and that big, wide cabin feels spacious and airy. There is usually a bar for business travelers and the upper deck, which often has an economy section as well as business seats, is one of the best economy cabins you will ever fly. But as air travel gets back on its feet, the four-engine giant is finding favor, earning it at least a reprieve and possibly even a renaissance for some airlines.
From a peak of more than 10,000 A380 flights in January 2020, there were fewer than 1,000 flights per month for the rest of 2020, according to data from Cirium. The bottom came in June this year when the number of A380 passenger flights fell below 50 for the whole month. Numbers remained low for the first six months of 2021, but from mid-2021 travel demand started to pick up and A380s returned to the airways, ending with 3000 flights in December. Throughout 2022 the trend has continued, with around 5000 A380 flights by mid-year and counting. Today, about a third of the world’s A380 fleet is back in the air. By the end of 2022, the number of A380 flights is expected to be around 60 percent of pre-Covid numbers.
The A380 is proving to be a workhorse, particularly in markets where demand for long-haul travel has picked up again, such as Australia. Today, seven airlines operate A380s. That’s only half the number the plane has flown since 2007, but four of those seven airlines operate flights to Australia.
Qantas’ affection for the superjumbo has not been dented by the pandemic. The national airline has been using A380s on its flagship flight QF1 between Sydney and London via Singapore since mid-June. After a brief appearance on the Sydney-Los Angeles route, Qantas has deployed all three of its active A380s on the Kangaroo route to the UK. Boeing 787s currently flying to Los Angeles from Melbourne and Sydney will eventually be replaced by A380s. Three other Qantas superjumbos are currently undergoing refurbishments in Abu Dhabi and the airline plans to return 10 of its 12-person A380 fleet back into service, with the full crew expected to be back in the skies in early 2024.
Since March 2022, shortly after Australia opened its borders to unhindered international travel, Emirates has operated a twice-daily A380 service between Sydney and Dubai. EK415 arriving in Sydney at dawn continues to Melbourne. In the other direction, Emirates flight EK 409 is a daily non-stop Airbus A380 service from Melbourne to Dubai. Emirates also operates a daily A380 service between Dubai and Brisbane.
Emirates was by far the largest customer for the A380, adding a total of 118 aircraft to its fleet. According to Planespotters.net, 71 of these aircraft are still in active service. That’s more than the total number of A380s currently operated by all other airlines combined. Emirates now operates an A380 service from Dubai to 27 cities including Port Louis on the island of Mauritius, Sao Paolo in Brazil and Amman in Jordan. The last A380, built before Airbus ended production of the giant plane, was delivered to Emirates in December.
The other Gulf airline that operates an A380 service to Australia is Qatar Airways, with a daily service between Doha and Sydney. That comes as a surprise as Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker is not a fan of the A380 and once called it the airline’s “biggest mistake” in a 2021 webinar hosted by aviation news site Simple Flying.
The fourth airline to fly A380s to Australia is Singapore Airlines, whose flight SQ231 operates daily between Singapore and Sydney. The airline currently has 17 A380s in its fleet, nine of which are still in service.
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