“Never say never” would be an apt way to describe such an extraordinary comeback.
The Airbus A380, the world’s largest airliner with over 600 seats on board (in a specific Emirates airline configuration) had been written off by many observers and retired by many airlines at the height of the crisis. pandemic. But now, as airlines look for ways to cope with the sudden, massive increase in demand and delivery delays plaguing Boeing, the superjumbo is coming back and in far greater numbers than expected.
In the last week of June, a total of 129 A380s returned to flight worldwide, operated by seven airlines, according to tracking portal Flightradar24. That’s more than half of the 251 long-haul planes ever delivered, with more returning to service every week.
A380: return from the abyss
In a dramatic turnaround last week, German airline Lufthansa confirmed it was bringing back A380s for the 2023 summer season, a sign that a resurgence of the A380, unthinkable just months ago, is gaining traction.
Passengers love the A380. But almost all of its operators have struggled to fly the giant plane economically, mainly because of its four engines, which consume astronomical levels of fuel as well as the many seats to fill. The plane, of which Airbus hoped to build at least a thousand, was a commercial flop.
The Emirates carrier from Dubai remains by far the A380’s biggest backer and customer. Emirates has 123 A380s, almost half of the total quantity ever produced.
Production of the A380 ended last year, with Emirates receiving the last A380 built at the Airbus factory in Hamburg in December 2021. The era of the four-jet jumbo jet seemed to be over as its rival had already indicated American Boeing. it would end production of the legendary Boeing 747 in 2022 after more than 50 years.
Decommissioned A380s are suddenly needed and will be able to fly again
Air France permanently scrapped its 10 Airbus A380s even before the pandemic hit, some having already been dismantled. When the COVID-19 pandemic nearly brought aviation to a standstill in the spring of 2020, the end of most of the remaining A380s seemed inevitable, with the exception of the Emirates fleet, as the airline had already announced that it would flying its double-decker planes, with showers and an onboard lounge, until the mid-2030s.
Lufthansa adopts the A380 again
Lufthansa, which had a total of 14 A380s in its fleet, was among the airlines that pulled the plug on the superjumbo. He sent his entire fleet into retreat. As Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr pointed out in August 2021: “The A380 is obviously not coming back”.
In April 2022, he reiterated that to Germany The Spiegel magazine: “It’s over, once and for all. The A380 is too uneconomical compared to new long-haul jets. It will not return to Lufthansa.”
Lufthansa still has 14 A380s, which are currently stationed in Spain and France. Six of these aircraft have already been sold, eight A380s are still part of the Lufthansa fleet at the moment.
Anyone who wants to see Lufthansa’s superjumbos today should head to Lourdes in France, an important Catholic pilgrimage site. At Tarbes-Lourdes airport are several dozen jets, all in long-term storage in the picturesque setting of the snow-capped Pyrenees. Many of them came here brand new from the Airbus factory in Toulouse, having never carried a passenger.
Even behind the thin wire fence, it is possible to approach these sleeping giants. The windows and engines are covered with silver foil, the landing gear neatly packed, all fuselage openings closed. This is called “deep storage” in aviation parlance.
“It would take nine months for our A380s to be operational again,” Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told DW.
nevertheless, four to five of the eight A380s remaining at Lufthansa will be restored to airworthy condition and will operate scheduled flights.
“I had to soften my view on the A380’s final ending a bit,” Spohr said in late June.
It will be some time before the parked jumbo jets can take flight again
Boeing problems prompt Airbus A380 relaunch
Soaring passenger demand, already above pre-pandemic levels in some areas, is a key reason for the U-turn on the A380. But it also has to do with Boeing’s problems.
Lufthansa was among the first customers for the largest long-haul aircraft currently in production, the Boeing 777-9, which the German airline wants to operate with 400 seats. However, the delivery of the plane was delayed by about five years, until 2025.
“The Boeing 777-9 delivery delays are a big burden on our flight operations,” Spohr said. So, as an interim measure, Lufthansa decided to reintroduce the A380.
Lufthansa would start operating its A380s returning from Munich in the spring of 2023, Spohr said, adding that the number could increase if demand remained strong.
Not enough A380 pilots
The main reason for basing the superjumbos in Bavaria rather than at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub is the lack of pilots.
“We only kept 14 A380 pilots ready to fly, who could be deployed immediately. So if we put the A380 back into service, we would need to qualify other A350 pilots,” Spohr explained. .
Lufthansa’s A350 fleet is also based in Munich, where part of its flight crew must take the six-week course which also allows them to fly the A380.
Edited by: Ashutosh Pandey