Qatar Airways, the operator of a large, young, mixed, and currently largely-grounded fleet, has revealed that a transformation is underway. Once the Gulf carrier’s planes are allowed to take off again, the fleet is likely to look much different from before the coronavirus crisis.

Before the COVID-19 crisis hit and changed the cards of the whole aviation industry, Qatar Airways was flying a wide array of Airbus aircraft (six families ranging from the A319 all the way to A380 superjumbos) and two types of Boeing jets (777 and 787). In total, the fleet consisted of over 200 planes of eight different types. 

However, the Gulf carrier was already planning to move towards a simplified fleet version. From 2024, it was to consist of only four aircraft families for passenger service: Boeing 777s, 787s, Airbus A350s and A321s, the group’s chief executive Akbar al-Baker outlined back in May 2019

The Airbus A380s, despite having around five years of service left, were due to leave around the same time. “For the A380s, on the 10th anniversary, we will retire them,” as al-Baker said in February 2019. At the time, the average age of Qatari airline’s superjumbos was just under five years, placing the retirement deadline around 2024. 

The COVID-19 crisis has seemingly accelerated the plans. All 10 Qatar Airways A380s are currently grounded and would not return to service at least until mid-2021 ‒ or ever, the airline’s CEO revealed on May 12, 2020. 

On May 14, al-Baker told the BBC that the Gulf carrier was planning to fire around 20% of its employees. The scope of layoffs is “nearly equal to the amount of aeroplanes we are never going to fly again,” al-Baker said. He did not reveal which aircraft in particular “would never fly again”.

 

The estimation indicates that around 44 planes would not return to service. Besides the 10 superjumbos, which may or may not fly again, presumably the first in line are Airbus A330s. They were already expected to leave the fleet by 2022 to give way for new A350XWBs and Boeing 787s. The two A319s (over 15 years old) and the 31 A320s (10 years old) were also previously omitted from the Qatar Airways vision of the fleet in 2024.

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Qatar Airways, which warned it would be making “substantial” job cuts earlier in the month, has now landed in hot water on how, allegedly, the layoffs program is being handled. Following a now-viral letter from a former pilot, the Qatari national carrier is now, once again, accused of ageist policies against its cabin crew.