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Malaysia Airlines to Retire Airbus A380s

A Malaysia Airlines A380 (Photo: Mark Harkin, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

The Airbus A380 sure is an aircraft that came late for the era it was launched in. While the Airbus super-jumbo provides more seating capacity than any other commercial aircraft out there, it is also no longer a favorite for airlines given its high operating costs and the availability of more fuel-efficient and longer-range jets.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbus was struggling to secure new A380 orders, as airlines were shifting towards more fuel-efficient types such as the A350 and Boeing 787, and the death of “the Whale,” as the A380 has come to be called, was to be seen in the foreseeable future.

With the pandemic accelerating grounding fleets across the world, it is no surprise some A380 operators are opting to phase out the type earlier than planned. Malaysia Airlines, which operated six of the super-jumbos, announced it would be retiring them this year.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Izham Ismail announced the move saying, “We’re currently exploring ways of disposing the aircraft. We’re cognisant of the challenges of how to sell the aircraft but we’re exploring ways.”

Airline executives will now have to look at what to do with the jumbo jets, which will likely have to be scrapped given the challenges of securing a consumer for the aircraft type.

According to FlightGlobal, the decision to retire its A380s fits with the carrier’s “Long-Term Business Plan,” which aims to diversify from solely operating an airline to proving services such as maintenance and cargo operations. In this way, retiring the A380 would free up one of the carrier’s maintenance lines at its Kuala Lumpur home airport, which could instead be used to service aircraft from other carriers.

The A380 was perhaps never fit for an airline with the size and numbers of Malaysia Airlines. Before the pandemic, the Malaysia flag carrier would fly its A380s seasonally on flights between its home in Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, Melbourne, Seoul and Tokyo, complementing regular flights operated by its A330s.

Before that, the Superjumbos were flown from Kuala Lumpur to London and Paris. However, as Malaysia Airlines received six Airbus A350-900s in 2018, it began using the newer and more efficient A350s on its European routes. The Kuala Lumpur-based carrier had tried to divest from its A380s before, though it hadn’t found a consumer for those aircraft. In 2016, the airline also announced plans to offer short wet leases on its A380s, however that did not materialize either and it kept them instead.

Malaysia Airlines is in the midst of financial struggles that date way back before the pandemic. The airline has a debt of almost $4 million it cannot pay.

Khazanah Nasional Berhad, a Malaysian state-run wealth fund that fully own the airline announced it would no longer be pumping funds into the carrier. Instead, the airline would have to restructure its debt and size in order to stay afloat, otherwise, it faces the threat of liquidation.

The A380s might not be the only thing Malaysia Airlines needs to get rid of. Time and management’s capacity to turn things around will tell how the carrier jets back into the skies.

Jose Antonio Payet
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  • Jose Antonio Payet

    As a geography nerd, Jose has always been fascinated by the complexities of the airline industry and its ability to bring the world closer together. Born and raised in Peru, now studying in the UK. he has travelled around America, Europe and South East Asia. His favorite aircraft is the Boeing 767-300, which he has flown many times during his childhood; although now the A350 is slowly growing up on him.

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