As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on international air travel, airlines are reviewing the future of wide-body aircraft after many operators were forced to ground these types of planes.
This included the Airbus A380 as it was no longer considered to be financially and environmentally sustainable.
Despite the heavy impact, some operators have remained confident in flying the Airbus A380. Here, AeroTime investigates the largest Airbus A380 operators.
As the largest operator with a substantial fleet, Emirates took delivery of its first Airbus A380 in 2008. It became the second airline to fly the world’s largest passenger aircraft, after Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY).
“Emirates will continue to be the largest operator of this spacious and modern aircraft for the next two decades, and we’re committed to ensuring that the Emirates A380 experience remains a customer favourite with ongoing investments to enhance our product and service,” Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates, said in a statement in September 2021.
Emirates’ fleet of Airbus A380 aircraft will reach 118 by the end of 2021. Currently, more than half of the airline’s A380s are parked due to the pandemic’s debilitating impact on international air travel demand.
However, Emirates plans to deploy additional Airbus A380s at the beginning of November 2021 as it witnesses a continued rise in air travel demand as well as the easing of travel restrictions worldwide.
“Plans to restore 70% of its capacity by the end of the year are on track with the return to service of more than 50 A380 aircraft,” read a statement by the airline dated September 27, 2021.
In its first delivery ceremony, the Singaporean carrier, known for its luxurious services, revealed its 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 (SIA1) (SINGY), Chew Choon Seng, said on October 15, 2007.
Historically, Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) had a total of 24 Airbus A380s in its fleet, according to Planespotter.net. However, in 2016, Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY) announced that it would not extend the lease of its oldest Airbus A380 aircraft, a move that meant the airline was the first carrier to phase out its A380s.
After retiring 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,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a statement released in December 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.
Australia’s flag carrier Qantas received its first Airbus A380 in 2008.
“When we ordered our A380 in 2000, we said that in addition to giving us the opportunity to reinvent our product, this revolutionary new aircraft offered capacity and operating savings, as well as environmental improvements,” Geoff Dixon, a former Qantas CEO, said in a statement dated September 2008.
Initially, Qantas placed an order for 20 Airbus A380s. However, the Australian carrier removed eight Airbus A380s from its order book in 2019 as new doubts about the future viability of the Airbus A380 were raised.
Currently, Qantas has a total of 12 Airbus A380s in its fleet, according to Planespotters.net. Due to the ongoing pandemic, most of the airline’s A380s are parked in Victorville Southern California Logistics (LCV) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), United States.
The Australian airline grounded the aircraft in June 2020, saying that A380s would be of no use for at least three years.
Despite various concerns, the Qantas CEO remains confident that the airline’s 12 Airbus A380s will return to service once international air travel recovers.
“We think we will reactivate all of the A380s. We spent a lot of money on them,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said while speaking during CAPA live on April 14, 2021. “Once demand is there, they are going to be good aircraft.”
British Airways took delivery of its first Airbus A380 in 2013, becoming Britain’s first operator of the largest passenger aircraft.
“These aircraft are the start of a new era for British Airways. Over the next 15 months, we will take delivery of new aircraft at the rate of one a fortnight as we put ourselves at the forefront of modern aviation,” Keith Williams, a former CEO of British Airways said at the time.
British Airways has a total of 12 Airbus A380s in its fleet, according to Planespotters.net. But British Airways has not flown its Airbus A380 since the temporary grounding in March 2020.
However, British Airways confirmed its Airbus A380s will be returning to the skies sooner than expected, with first flights to take off in November 2021.
The superjumbos will first operate on short-haul European routes from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Frankfurt (FRA) and Madrid (MAD) as part of the return to service training. They will return to long-haul routes from December 3, 2021, the airlines stated.
Qatar Airways received its first Super Jumbo in 2014, becoming the 12th Airbus A380 operator.
“By introducing the A380 to our ever expanding fleet, it will strengthen Doha’s position as a key regional and global aviation hub,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker was quoted as saying in a statement dated September 2014.
Qatar Airways has a total of 10 Airbus A380s in its fleet, according to Planespotters.net.
Due to the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Qatar Airways initially planned to operate half of its Airbus A380s fleet.
“The A380 is one of the worst aircraft when it comes to emissions that are flying today,” Al Baker commented during CAPA Live on January 13, 2021. “That is why we have decided that we will not operate them for the foreseeable future – and even when we will operate them, we will only operate half of the numbers we have.”
In April 2021, while speaking at the Simple Flying live webinar, Al Baker said that the purchase of Airbus A380 was the airline’s biggest mistake and the aircraft model had no future in the air carrier’s fleet.
But in September 2021, Al Baker confirmed that the airline would bring its Airbus A380s back into service. The carrier’s five Super Jumbos will fly as soon as November 2021.
“I think by early November we’ll be starting to fly the A380s again. At the moment we are looking at flying five, but we may have to fly all ten,” Al Baker told Executive Traveller on September 29, 2021.
The move to use Airbus A380s once again came as the airline reported a 4,000-seat gap due to “issues with its certain Airbus A350s”, which were grounded by the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) in August 2021.
Korean Air celebrated its first delivery of the Airbus A380 in 2011.
“The exceptional, fuel efficient and environmentally friendly A380 that is being delivered today is perfect to assist Korean Air in advancing our goal of becoming a respected leading global carrier,” said Yang Ho Cho, a former CEO of Korean Air.
Currently, the airline has 10 Airbus A380s, according to Planespotters.net.
However, Korean Air chief executive Cho Won-tae confirmed in an interview with FlightGlobal that the airline would retire all of its Airbus A380 aircraft by 2026 in a bid to cut costs and improve efficiency.
In total, only 15 airlines in the world operated the Airbus wide-body prior to the pandemic. However, the collapse in demand for travel during Covid has had a particularly severe effect on the four-engined double-decker. Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA), Air France, Malaysia Airlines, Hi Fly, Etihad Airways and Thai Airways have already said they will discontinue flying the Airbus A380. China Southern Airlines (ZNH), on the other hand, has hinted about its Super Jumbo fleet retirements.