This week has certainly been a seesaw of a week for the Airbus A380. The current title holder for the world’s largest passenger aircraft saw both the good and the really ugly over the last seven days, leaving many to wonder what the future holds for “the whale.”
Some Refreshed, Some Removed from Service
Sydney-based Qantas Airways announced on Friday their fleet of 12 A380 aircraft would be receiving a refresh in 2019 and 2020. The changes mainly affect the cabin layout, as the airline will be doing away with the small economy class section on the upper deck and instead adding six more business class seats and 24 more premium economy seats.
The airline also announced numerous other enhancements. In first class, passengers can expect refurbished seats, better bedding options, and larger IFE screens. In premium economy, the airline’s new seat will be installed, widening the current seat by 10 percent and allowing for increased comfort. In economy, the seats will be refinished and will feature improved in flight entertainment.
Business class, however, will be completely transformed as the airline introduces the same seat that is currently slated to be introduced on their Boeing 787 aircraft. These fully-flat, staggered-configuration seats will feature aisle access from every seat, which represents an improvement from the current 2-2-2 configuration on the airline’s A380s.
Earlier in the week, news began to circulate regarding a Singapore Airlines A380 that has been parked since early June. The airline then confirmed the aircraft is undergoing “de-lease work before returning to the lessor.”
The lessor, Dr. Peters Group, is also expected to sell the first two A380 aircraft they get back from Singapore for parts, meaning the world’s third and fifth whales will soon be the first scrapped, merely a decade after they first entered service.
A Polarizing Aircraft
This week, the world saw just why the A380 is such a polarizing aircraft when it comes to operators. Some, including Emirates – an operator of nearly 100 of the aircraft – seemingly cannot get enough of the aircraft and all it does for their bottom line. But some, such as Singapore, struggle to find the sweet spot.
Emirates, headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, represents the A380’s best success story. The backbone and flagship of their fleet, the aircraft has truly made the ultimate hub-and-spoke model possible.
With one super-hub and nearly 150 destinations to serve, the airline has for nearly a decade relied on the giant aircraft to operate dozens of daily flights, helping to lead to a profit of over $2 billion in the fiscal year that ended in March 2016.
Qantas also expects to take delivery of eight more A380s in the next few years. The Aussie aircraft operate some of the airline’s longest flights, including their flights from Sydney and Melbourne to the U.S.
The aircraft even allowed the airline to operate their longest flights, QF7 and 8 from Sydney to Dallas and back, without stopping in Brisbane, Australia on the return, something that had caused the route to cost much more than it otherwise had to.
For the majority of the 11 other A380 operators, the aircraft has allowed them to operate high-density flights to some of the world’s busiest airports. For numerous airlines, the aircraft has enabled better access to the heavily slot restricted London Heathrow Airport, though that is merely one of many examples.
In recent months, however, the A380 has taken hits from all sides as Airbus announced they would further slow down production of the aircraft at their plant in Toulouse, France. And with the first of the fleet to be taken out of service in the coming months, it may seem as though the young aircraft is nearing an untimely demise.
However, huge proponents of the airline still exist across the globe. Operators in Europe, all over Asia, and in Australia continue to fly the aircraft to six continents, and Airbus even claims an A380 takes off or lands an average of every three minutes somewhere in the world.
As of July 2017, just over 100 of the aircraft remain to be delivered (46 of which will go to Emirates), meaning just over two thirds of the total orders have been filled to date. But by 2019, the airline will be producing just one aircraft every six weeks in an effort to keep the lights on in Toulouse just a little while longer.
By further pushing out the schedule, Airbus has done just about everything it can to keep their A380 program alive. Now, it’s all up to the airlines to keep the king of the skies where it should be: airborne.