The status of the Airbus A380 has been questioned ever since the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the international air travel demand. As flying operations became almost solely cargo and the skies fell quiet, some airlines single-handedly wrote off the Airbus A380 mainly because of its operational inefficiency. However, others remained strong believers in the double-decker. Let’s take a look at what the future holds for Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 fleet.
Singapore Airlines ‒ the first launch customer of the Super Jumbo
The largest passenger aircraft in the world was unveiled to the world on January 18, 2005. While at its unveiling ceremony the Airbus A380 was of great interest for long-haul air carriers such as Air France, Emirates, or Qantas, the first launch customer of Super Jumbo came to be Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY).
After rigorous and tough testing, as well as many changes to the structure of the aircraft, the first ever Airbus A380 aircraft was handed over to the Singaporean air carrier on October 15, 2007. In its first delivery ceremony, the operator, known for its luxurious services, revealed their new deluxe A380 cabin interior, featuring 471 seats in three classes.
“This delivery really marks the beginning of a new chapter for the aviation industry and we feel honoured to be the ones opening this new chapter,” former CEO of Singapore Airlines Chew Choon Seng said on October 15, 2007.
Singapore Airlines Airbus A380, registered as 9V-SKA, made its commercial debut ten days after delivery, on flight SQ380 from Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD).
The journey of the A380 in the Singapore Airlines fleet
Historically, Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) had a total of 24 Airbus A380 aircraft in its fleet, as per planespotter.net data. However, in 2016, Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) announced that it would not extend the lease of its first-ever Airbus A380 aircraft, the move that made Changi Airport-based airline to be the first carrier to phase out its Super Jumbo.
“Our first five A380s are on a 10-year lease, with options to extend. The first will expire in October next year, and we have decided not to extend it,” an SIA spokesperson told Reuters in September 2016. “For the other four, decisions will be made later.”
Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) ousted its first-ever Airbus A380 in 2017. Later that year, the Southeast Asian air carrier started having doubts about the demand for the rest of its Airbus A380 aircraft, subsequently phasing out four more aircraft (registered as 9V-SKB, 9V-SKC, 9V-SKD, 9V-SKE) from its fleet for good. However, when the decision to retire leased Airbus A380s was carried out, the airline had another five Airbus A380 orders lined up for deliveries in 2017.
After ousting five of its first Airbus A380s in 2017, the airline started receiving the “New Singapore Airlines A380” aircraft which featured an upgraded and improved cabin. The New Singapore Airlines A380 featured six private Suites on the forward upper deck with a swivelling recliner, an office area and a bed, 78 designed Business Class seats on the upper deck, and on the main deck, 44 Premium Economy Class and 343 Economy Class seats.
“When we put the world’s first A380 into commercial service in 2007, it set new industry benchmarks for premium full-service air travel. A decade later, the Singapore Airlines A380, featuring our flagship products and legendary service, remains a customer favourite, and we continue to receive highly positive feedback about the travel experience on the aircraft,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a statement released on December 13, 2017.
However, just three years later the global pandemic devastated the international air travel market, accelerating the Super Jumbo demise. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) had laid out plans to retire seven Airbus A380 aircraft, leaving only 12 of its double-deckers in its fleet.
“This review is likely to lead to a material impairment in the carrying values of older generation aircraft, particularly the A380 aircraft, which would account for approximately $1 billion,” read the Singapore Airlines’ (SIA1) (SINGY) statement written on July 29, 2020.
The decision to review Airbus A380 aircraft retirement came after the SIA Group passenger traffic had plunged by 99.5%, leading the airline to a $1 billion net loss in the first quarter of 2020.
To date, the entire fleet of Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 aircraft is parked in Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) due to still relatively low demand for international air travel.
However, while many other airlines have already farewelled their A380s, Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) remained confident enough to continue investing into its Super Jumbos’ remodeling. The plans of remodeling the cabin had been born earlier, but were later disturbed by the pandemic. The company plans to remodel all 12 Airbus A380s by the end of 2021. All the A380s will have the newest first class suites on the forward upper deck. There will also be six first class suites, and two of the suite pairs can be made into double beds.
Throughout 2021, Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 aircraft have been spotted several times, prompting speculations that the airline’s double-decker might be soon coming back to commercial service once the international air travel demand recovers.
On February 24, 2021, the Airbus A380, registered as 9V-SKQ, performing flight SQ8899, took off from Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD) and landed in Singapore Changi Airport (SIN), a home base of SIA’s Airbus A380 fleet.
“Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) can confirm that one of our Airbus A380 aircraft that was stored in Alice Springs has begun its planned return to Singapore ahead of a scheduled retro-fitting and maintenance programme,” the airline told the Australian Aviation in February 2021.
While the entire Singapore Airlines Super Jumbo fleet is currently parked, the operator seemingly has no plans to ground the entire Airbus A380 fleet for good just yet.
“We do not have any plans at this stage to return any of our A380 aircraft into commercial service, however we will continue to monitor travel demand closely and remain nimble to ensure the right aircraft can be deployed to the appropriate route as required,” a spokesperson of Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) told AeroTime News on June 15, 2021.
In total, only 15 airlines in the world operated the Airbus widebody. However, the travel demand collapse brought by the pandemic has been especially cruel for the four-engined double-decker. Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA), Air France, Malaysia Airlines, Hi Fly, Etihad Airways, and Thai Airways already said they would discontinue flying the Airbus A380. China Southern, on the other hand, only hinted about their Super Jumbo fleet retirements.