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The Virus That Killed The A380?

Before the global COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the world, there were always questions about the long-term viability of the Airbus A380. The aircraft has become somewhat of a white elephant in the aviation world, loved by travellers but a pain for most airlines. The A380 is too big, expensive and inefficient for most operators leaving it unwanted by a large proportion of its operators. Only 251 A380s were ordered, and so far 242 have been delivered with nine final aircraft either awaiting delivery or in production. While it seemed like a vast majority of the A380s would be around for several years to come, COVID-19 has thrown this prospect into doubt. Will COVID-19 be forever known as the virus that killed the A380?

In 2019 Airbus announced the end of the A380 program, with the final aircraft set to roll out in 2021.

As airlines around the world store aircraft and cut services, A380 operators have been forced to review their plans for the aircraft. These plans have caused A380s to be retired early. Aircraft which may be spared have been placed into indefinite storage.

Let’s take a look at each of the 14-individual current A380 operators (and the one former operator) to assess their plans for the aircraft.

This article will be updated with relevant information as it comes in. Last Update (19th November)

Current Operators (in order of delivery):

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines were the first A380 operator | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: October 2007
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 19
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 12

As of Wednesday the 19th of August 2020, 12 Singapore Airlines A380s are in storage at Singapore Changi airport, while seven have been flown to Alice Springs, Australia for long term storage. The airlines A380s range in age from 12 – 2 years old. The fleet has been grounded since March 2020.

In July Singapore Airlines announced that they would be reviewing their fleet plans and making changes to ensure that they have the correct aircraft to suit demand and the size of their network in the future.
Unfortunately for the A380, its place in the Singapore Airlines fleet seems to be at risk, in a statement about its fleet review the airline said the review is:

“likely to lead to a material impairment of the carrying values of older generation aircraft, particularly the A380 aircraft which would account for approximately $1 billion.”

While this does not seal the aircraft’s fate, it is highly likely at least some of the aircraft in its 19 strong fleet, will not return to the skies. The older A380s in the fleet are likely to be first on the chopping block, especially given they have older interiors. They have not yet been retrofitted into the airline’s newer configuration.

What does seem confirmed is that for the short term the A380s will not be back in the skies for Singapore Airlines, especially while there is a lack of demand.

Update (19th November): Singapore Airlines recently opened a temporary restaurant onboard one of their A380s in Singapore.The airline recently confirmed their future plans for the A380 in a post-COVID-19 world. The airline will operate 12 A380s, therefore retiring 7 A380s. Those that remain will feature the airlines all new first and business class seats. Singapore Airlines still believe the aircrafts return is far away.


Emirates

EK are the worlds biggest A380 customer | Source: Airbus

First delivery: July 2008
To be delivered: 8
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 115
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 114 (Not confirmed – 1 aircraft permanently phased out due to end of the lease, with two more confirmed to go in 2020)

Emirates are by far the biggest A380 customer, with the aircraft becoming synonymous with the Emirates brand. The Emirates A380 is known for its onboard shower and bar and is a prominent aircraft in the Emirates fleet, which only consists of widebody aircraft (777s and A380s). Over the years, the airline has relied heavily on the plane, using it on its busiest routes such as London Heathrow, New York and Sydney.

Emirates A380s in storage at DWC in 2020 – Source: Emirates

In March 2020 the airline was forced to ground all its aircraft. This left 115 A380s on the ground spread between Dubai International Airport (DXB), Emirates’ base and Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). A decline in demand and the realisation that a post-COVID-19 world will look remarkably different from a pre-COVID-19 world has led to questions being raised about the future of the Emirates A380.

Media outlets initially reported that the airline was looking to retire at least 40% of their A380 fleet permanently. News also emerged of the airline in discussions with Airbus to cancel 5 of its remaining 8 A380s on order.

Since then Emirates president Sir Tim Clark has come out to say that the airline will not be retiring a significant portion of its A380s. Instead, the airline will keep many aircraft in long term storage until demand returns and the airline goes back to normal, which is expected to be in 2022.

In July the iconic Emirates A380 returned to the skies, with services restarting to London and Paris. – This was a significant step for the airline, who until then had solely been relying on their Boeing 777 fleet to carry out operations. Other destinations have since been added and will continue to be added. Emirates have only been using newer A380s to fulfil these routes, with older aircraft staying in storage. Some older aircraft have undertaken crew training flights and have been rotated between DXB and DWC.

One A380, A6-EDB, has been permanently withdrawn from the Emirates A380 fleet, this, however, was a scheduled withdrawal. Sir Tim Cook stated that 2020 would see three older A380s leave the fleet.

It is clear that for the short-term future the Boeing 777 will remain the primary aircraft for Emirates. However, it is also apparent that the airline intends to return as many as it viably can to the skies as soon as it is possible. This, however, may take several years and DWC is likely to remain an A380 parking ground for the foreseeable future. It seems likely that more than 3 A380s will leave the fleet though, especially with the airline already having a surplus of aircraft and eight more A380s on order. The aircraft on order will likely have their entry into service delayed.

Update (19th November): Large majority of the A380 fleet remain grounded, only newer ones operating to select destinations across the EK network. Some A380s are not being used as cargo aircraft. 


Qantas

Qantas A380 taking off | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: September 2008
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 12
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 6/12?

The Qantas A380 fleet has been grounded since late March 2020, and for the first months of their grounding were spread between 5 different locations: Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles, Abu Dhabi and Dresden.

However, in June, it was announced that the airline would place their entire A380 fleet into long term storage at Victorville in California. The aircraft are expected to stay in storage until 2023 with their return to service depending on the market at the time. The six refurbished aircraft would be the first to return, while the other 6’s fate is hinging on how much demand there would be at the time.

The aircraft parked in Australia were flown to America, leaving Singapore Airlines’ parked A380s in Alice Springs the only A380s in the country.

As of Saturday the 22nd of August, nine Qantas A380s have been parked in Victorville and two are parked at LAX (VH-OQB and VH-OQH). Up until the end of July VH-OQH had been in Abu Dhabi undergoing maintenance however the aircraft has since been flown to Los Angeles.

(UPDATE as of 21st October: ALL but 2 A380s have now been stored in Victorville)

A380s parked in Victorville | Source: Dylan Phelps / Boneyard Safari

1 A380 (VH-OQI) is undergoing refurbishment in Dresden. The aircraft will be sent to Victorville once the necessary upgrades have been completed.

The two aircraft at LAX are expected to join the rest of the fleet in the desert soon; they are likely to be going through maintenance at the Qantas base at the airport.

Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce has previously told the Executive Traveller that

“There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back,”

“That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like…. we don’t know when the big markets like the US and the UK, which use the A380s, will open, and when.”

It is evident that the Qantas A380 will not be returning for some years, now the big question is if they do return how many will re-join the fleet. It will all depend on the market in 2023 and whether international travel bounces back. For the time being Qantas look set to rely on their 787 and A330s when international travel returns to be the backbone of the fleet.


Lufthansa

Lufthansa A380 wearing the old livery | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: May 2010
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 14
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 7?

Lufthansa announced that they would be retiring 7 of their A380s as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally these aircraft were scheduled to be phased out in 2022, but their retirement was brought forward to 2020. – In German media, it is being reported that more A380s could be on the chopping block as the airline seeks to secure its future fleet plans

Currently, 7 A380s are in storage in Teruel Spain with 7 in Frankfurt. Which aircraft registrations will be phased out is yet to be seen. The airline has A380s ranging in age 5-10 years old. It could be assumed that Lufthansa will retire its older aircraft first. However, some of its newer aircraft have been parked in Spain rather than Frankfurt.

Lufthansa also announced that their A380s would no longer operate from Frankfurt once they return to service. Instead, they will run out of Munich from 2022, the year which the airline predicts the A380s return.

The return of the Lufthansa A380 is nowhere near certain, the airline’s plans seem to be continually evolving, and it is highly likely more A380s could be phased out if demand is not expected to return for a number of years.

Update (19th November): All remaining Lufthansa A380s have been placed into long term storage and will only be reactivated if there is demand. – They are no longer part of the fleet planning process


Korean Air

Korean Air A380 before delivery in 2011 | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: May 2011
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 10
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 10?

Not much news has emerged about the future of Korean Air’s A380s, the airline grounded their fleet of 10 A380s at the end of February/start of March. The fleet has remained grounded since then, with the aircraft being parked in Seoul.

On the 6th of July, HL7628 flew to Manila, this is likely to be for maintenance.

Given that the airline’s fleet of A380s is still relatively young, it is likely that the type will re-enter service when demand returns, and restrictions are lifted. For now, the airline will continue to use smaller aircraft to suit their needs. When the Korean Air A380s will return is yet to be seen.

Update (19th November): Currently 1 aircraft is active. The rest remain grounded.


China Southern Airlines

Source: Airbus

First Delivery: October 2011
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 5
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 5

China Southern has been the only A380 operator to have used the aircraft consistently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Towards the beginning of the year, in February, the aircraft were temporarily grounded however they soon returned to the skies and have been operating many flights for the airline. A large portion of the trips have been repatriation flights for Chinese citizens stuck overseas, and some are likely to have been cargo flights. All 5 of their aircraft have been operating to destinations such as Amsterdam, Sydney and Paris.

The airline in recent years has struggled to find routes to operate the A380 on, so it is somewhat ironic that an airline who has struggled in the past kept the aircraft running through a pandemic when so many other airlines placed their fleets into storage.


 

Malaysia Airlines

Source: Airbus

First Delivery: May 2012
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 6
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 6?

Malaysian Airlines has always struggled to find a place for the A380 in its fleet. Over the years, the airline has consistently changed its mind about what it wants to do with its small fleet of 6. Back in 2015, they were looking to sell their fleet, however, since then they have decided to keep the aircraft and in recent years used them on specific routes in peak seasons to add extra capacity. They have also been used for charter flights.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malaysian Airlines A380s have primarily remained grounded since late February/ early March. The aircraft have been parked in Kuala Lumpur. Although the airline did use 9M-MNF to transport cargo such as PPE to London in April.

Each Malaysian A380 has performed a test flight in the past two months. – These are likely to be crew training flights.

Similarly, to other airlines, Malaysian Airlines will likely keep its A380 fleet grounded in the long term. The future of their fleet is likely hanging in the balance, given how much they have struggled to find a place for the aircraft in their fleet. If there is enough demand in the future, then they may bring them back. But if there is a lack of international travel for many years, then these aircraft may not fly for Malaysian Airlines again.


 

Thai Airways

Source: Airbus

First Delivery: September 2012
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 6
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 6?

Thai Airways is another airline that operates a smaller fleet of Airbus A380s, the airline have had their fleet grounded since late March. With 4 of them being parked at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and 2 (HS-TUE and HS-TUF) being flown to U-Tapao–Rayong–Pattaya International Airport.

The airline itself has had a number of issues lately, with it recently posting a significant loss. Its normal operations have been suspended until at least late September, and in May the airline entered into a formal debt rehabilitation plan.

The Thai A380 could be a casualty if the airline aims to cut costs, reduce its fleet size and network. Only time will tell what the fate of these aircraft is.


 

British Airways

British Airways | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: July 2013
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 12
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 12

Currently, 10 British Airways A380s are parked in Chateauroux, France. 1 aircraft, G-XLEI, has been flown to Manila in the Philippines where it will undergo maintenance.

BA A380s in Chateauroux, France. – Source: AirTeamImages

Over July and August, the British Airways A380 have been rotated between being flown back to London Heathrow for maintenance before being flown back to France. This shows the airline is keeping the aircraft well maintained for when the planes return to the skies.

On the 22nd of August, G-XLEH returned to Heathrow from Manila. The aircraft is now likely to be ferried to Chateauroux for storage.

While no passenger flights have been scheduled for the BA A380 fleet, they are almost sure to return to the skies, with British Airways being an airline that has been able to use the A380 well. London Heathrow, the airline’s hub, is slot constrained meaning A380s can be useful on high-density routes.

British Airways parent company IAG recently released their results which contained a section about the British Airways A380 fleet.

“Temporary grounding of 4 A380s and up to 6 777s”.

This would suggest that when operations return to normal, eight aircraft would immediately return with four returning later once the demand fully returns and the airline can make them a viable option again.

While British Airways have recently retired aircraft such as the 747 and A318, the A380 is likely to fly for the airline for a while. It’s not a matter of if they return, its a matter of when.

Update (19th November):  The fleet is now split across Chateauroux, London Heathrow and Madrid


 

Asiana Airlines

An Asiana A380 taking off | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: May 2014
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 6
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 6

Some Asiana A380s have recently performed consistent flying… however without passengers or cargo. These flights, which have been reported by other media outlets, are ‘ghost flights’ where crew training is carried out. Asiana is in a difficult situation where the airline does not have its own simulator, thus meaning that their pilots need to fly an actual A380 to keep their hours up! The pilots need to fly at least three times in a 3-month period for their license to remain valid, the closest simulator is in Thailand, but due to travel restrictions their pilots are unable to gain access to it. This is a costly exercise for the airline, but as Bloomberg was told:

“Asiana is in a bind because it also can’t afford for its pilots to lose their licenses,”

Currently, all but 1 Asiana A380 is parked in Seoul. In May, HL7625 was flown to Manila for maintenance and has been there since.

The training flights, highlight the intent of the airline to return their aircraft to service when they can start normal operations again. So, whilst the A380s are in for an extended period on the ground, they look set to fly again for Asiana.


 

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways A380 roll out | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: September 2014
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 10
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: unknown

Qatar’s A380s have been parked at Doha International Airport (Doha’s old airport) since late March/early April.

9 QR A380s in storage at Doha’s old airport | Source: Google Earth

The airline has since said that.

“It is not commercially or environmentally justifiable to operate such a large aircraft in the current market.”

In 2019 it was revealed Qatar was planning to retire its whole A380 fleet by 2024, however, with the current COVID-19 pandemic there is a chance they will not operate for the airline again.

Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, has hinted that the airline will keep its A380s grounded until at least July 2021 however there is no guarantee they will return and if they do not all may.

Qatar Airways’ A380s are relatively young with the first being delivered in 2014 and the latest in 2018. Unfortunately for Qatar’s A380 fleet, they seem destined for an early retirement, especially as the airline is primarily focused on its more fuel-efficient A350 and 787 fleet.


Etihad Airways

Etihad A380 | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: December 2014
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 10
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 10

Etihad’s A380s have been grounded since March; however, the entire fleet did perform short test flights in June. There were questions raised as to whether Etihad wanted to bring back its A380s into service, but the airline has denied it plans to retire its fleet early. Stating that when the time is right and demand returns, they will be back.

The aircraft are likely to remain on the ground for the time being, but when demand returns, Etihad will reactivate the aircraft. Similarly, to other airlines, Etihad could bring a select number back first before bringing the rest of its fleet back. Etihad’s neighbour airline, Emirates has brought back the A380 on select destinations so it would not be a surprise to see Etihad doing the same soon.

Update (19th November): Etihad have announced the A380s will be grounded indefinitely. One aircraft has now flown to Tarbes for storage.


 

Hi Fly

Source: Airbus

First Delivery: 2018
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 1
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 1

Hi Fly is the only airline to operate a second-hand A380 after it took delivery of the aircraft in 2018. The aircraft 9H-MIP is a former Singapore Airlines A380 (ex 9V-SKC), which left the Singapore Airlines fleet in 2017.

Since being delivered to Hi Fly, the aircraft has been used for charter flights. Back in February, in the early stages of the pandemic, the plane was used by the French government to deliver supplies to China and repatriate citizens from Wuhan.

The Hi Fly A380 seemed like the perfect aircraft for a pandemic scenario, and it could be easily leased by governments/airlines to repatriate citizens or carry medical supplies across the globe.

Unfortunately, though, on the 29th of February the aircraft entered maintenance and remained there until April.

In May the aircraft returned to the skies, performing repatriation and cargo flights to a range of countries. More recently Hi Fly decided to remove the aircraft’s seats so the plane could carry more cargo. Although since then the aircraft has barely flown. It last flew a scheduled route in June. Since then the aircraft has been stationed in Beja, last performing a test flight on the 5th of August.

Back in 2019, Hi Fly stated their intentions to take onboard more A380s; however, due to the pandemic, these plans could have changed. 9H-MIP will likely remain in the fleet for several years. Whether Hi Fly receive any more second-hand aircraft is yet to be seen.

Update (19th November): Hi-Fly has announced they will phase out their A380 at the end of the year, when the aircrafts lease is up. This signals the end of the 2nd hand A380 market. 


 

All Nippon Airways (ANA)

The First ANA A380 | Source: Airbus

First Delivery: March 2019
To be delivered: 1
Pre COVID-19 A380 fleet: 2
Post COVID-19 A380 fleet: 3

All Nippon Airways (ANA) is the only airline other than Emirates to have an A380 on order. ANA is also the most recent A380 customer, only receiving their first of the type back in 2019. Currently, its 3rd A380 has had its delivery delayed and is parked in Toulouse, France.

JA381A and JA382A have been grounded since March, both being parked at Narita International Airport in Tokyo. They have both performed a short flight since their grounding.

On the 22nd of August, JA381A operated a special flight with passengers on board. The flight lasted 1hr and 26 minutes.

Due to how new the aircraft are, ANA will obviously keep their A380s for years to come. They should return once normal operations resume.


 

Former Operator:

Air France

Source: @gab.aviation | AviationHub365

First Delivery: October 2009
Phased out: June 2020

In 2020, Air France became the first airline to phase out its entire A380 fleet. While the airline had previously stated its intentions to retire its A380 fleet by 2022, COVID-19 proved to be the final blow for its fleet with the retirement date being brought forward two years.

The airline, looking to cut costs and slim down their fleet, decided that it would instead operate more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the A350 and 787.

Air France operated a one-off special A380 flight in June to say goodbye to the aircraft. The flight flew over France and staff were on board to mark the end of an era for Air France.

With virtually no second-hand market existing for the A380s, Air France’s aircraft seem destined to be scrapped. So far 9 of the ten aircraft have officially left the fleet, with F-HPJJ still in Paris awaiting its final flight to where it will be stored.


 

Source: Airbus

Whilst the A380 may be a fantastic aircraft for passengers and captures the attention of people across the world. It is an aircraft that does not fit the current global market. COVID-19 has caused airlines to re-evaluate their fleets and has laid bare the real issues with operating the A380.

Many of the airlines that the A380 operates for are questioning whether even to bring the aircraft back, and those that do are having to do it in slowly.

Nowadays, airlines are looking for more efficient jets such as the A350 and 787

When we eventually emerge from the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic the world is undoubtedly going to look different, sadly airports are going to be filled with more retired aircraft and among those aircraft will sit a large number of A380s. The exact number is still to be seen, but with the situation rapidly evolving day by day, casualty numbers will not be known for some time yet.

Source: AviationTag

A380s that do return seem set to spend a long time on the sidelines as airlines sit and wait to see how the market recovers. – How it recovers will most certainly decide which airlines bring the aircraft back and which don’t.

While 2021 will be known as the year where it officially ceased production, 2020 may be the year and COVID-19 the virus that killed the A380


Individual Aircraft

Given the situation with the A380 is constantly changing, AviationHub365 has now set up a page to allow readers and followers to stay up to date with the A380 fleet along with the location and status of each aircraft.

We will try to keep the page regularly updated with information as it comes in. Use the button below to gain access to the page!

Click here to view individual aircraft

Want a breakdown of the A380 fleet? Click here


 

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Jack

Jack founded AviationHub365 in 2018 due to his love of aviation! He enjoys creating aviation content for everyone to enjoy! AviationHub365 has given Jack a platform to report on his passion.

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