Qatar Airways and the Airbus A380: no love lost?

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While the COVID-19 crisis single-handedly wrote off the future of the Airbus A380, as international travel came to a screeching halt, there was still some hope that some airlines would operate the type going forward. A few, including British Airways, Emirates and Qantas, have come out and indicated that they would fly the double-decker once restrictions ease regarding international travel.

But Qatar Airways, which previously indicated that it would shrink its A380 fleet, is seemingly joining the list of airlines that are not going to operate the aircraft if conditions do not improve hastily. The Doha-based carrier, which currently still owns 10 Super Jumbos, via its chief executive, stated that five of them would not return in the foreseeable future, if ever. Now, a shadow of doubt has been cast on the remaining five, as the CEO of the airline, Akbar al Baker, commented that there was no tomorrow for the aircraft if the pandemic continueds to hinder international travel.

Story of Qatar Airways A380 fleet

The story of the airline and the aircraft began in September 2014, when Airbus delivered the first A380 to Qatar Airways in quite an illustrious ceremony in Hamburg, Germany.

“The day has finally come, when the mighty wings of the A380 will fly in Qatar Airways colors,” stated al Baker at the time. “As we are continuously reviewing our passenger offering to always provide the very best in class, for us the arrival of the A380 opens a new chapter in the unparalleled, signature service we provide to travelers on board with Qatar Airways.”

However, little love was lost between the airline and the aircraft. The airline first ordered the double-decker in March 2001, when the Qatari carrier ordered two A380s, including two options. During the Paris Air Show in June 2007, the number grew to five, eventually growing eight firm orders and five options.

Qatar Airways finalized its A380 order book at 10 aircraft, with the last example (registered as A7-APJ) coming in April 2018.

Difficulties of deliveries

Despite the fact that, at first glance, al Baker was over the moon that Qatar Airways finally received its first A380. However, issues with the aircraft’s wings delayed the delivery, with the chief executive setting a pretty firm tone.

“We don’t want a fixed wing, we want a newly designed one,” he stated during the Farnborough Airshow in July 2012, as Airbus battled issues with the A380 wings. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had ordered the operators of the Super Jumbo to check for tiny cracks in the wings, affecting all 68 of the aircraft that Airbus had delivered by February 2012. The same month as EASA announced the inspections, and as the manufacturer scrambled to change its manufacturing process to strengthen the wings, al Baker told Reuters that the airline had “confidence in the A380. We are going to definitely receive our A380s on schedule.” He added that Qatar Airways would make sure that all the problems are solved prior to them taking the double-decker.

The prolonged Qatar Airways A380 exit

Fast forward to April 2021, the situation appears to have deteriorated drastically. While the airline has been hinting the impending A380 exit for a while, the intention now appears to be turning into action.

Qatar Airways had been already planning the exit of the double decker from its fleet even before the pandemic. Back in 2019, al Baker hinted that the A380s would be retired on their 10th anniversary – around 2024. 

When in May 2020 al Baker said around a fifth of the airline’s fleet would not be returned to service, the comment fueled further speculation about the A380’s bleak future. After all, the four engine double-deckers were the first ones to be grounded when the global COVID-19 crisis hit. 

Now, speaking with Sam Chui in early April 2021, the outspoken Qatar Airways CEO revealed that the airline had already taken impairment on five out of its 10 Super Jumbos and would do the same on the remaining ones if the pandemic continues until 2023-2024. 

“There is no future for the A380,” al Baker said. 

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