(CNN) – The recovery of commercial aviation after the pandemic may have an early and unlikely protagonist: the giant A380.
The world’s largest passenger plane appears to have been destined for scrap just two years ago as airlines struggled with the spread of the coronavirus. The entire fleet has been grounded, many aircraft have been put into long-term storage, and some airlines have even taken the opportunity to phase out the A380s entirely, with Air France retiring in May 2020.
But now, with passenger numbers rising and air traffic back to pre-pandemic levels, the plane is enjoying a resurgence. More than half of the world’s fleet has already returned to service, according to Flightradar24 data.
Lufthansa is the latest airline to announce the return of the plane, albeit not before 2023, and there is reason to believe that more A380s will take to the skies again over time.
“It’s definitely coming back,” says Jeff Van Claveren, aviation analyst and senior managing advisor at IBA. “Operators have been quite reluctant to bring it back because it’s such an expensive aircraft, but I think we’ve seen demand grow faster than people expected.”
come back more
Airbus has built and delivered 251 A380s, of which 238 are still in service, and the rest have been retired or scrapped. The plane, which is no longer in production, is popular with passengers and crew, but not with airlines: only 14 have operated it so far.
Of these, nine are currently flown by British Airways, All Nippon Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Qatar, Asiana, Korean Air and China Southern Airlines. Some of them already have plans to bring back more A380s into service.
Singapore Airlines, for example, currently flies 10 A380s from its fleet of 12, but confirmed to CNN Travel that the remaining two planes are undergoing renovations and will return to the fleet soon. Korean Air also said it will bring back a third A380 from its fleet of 10, joining the two aircraft already in service.
Qantas, which operates three of the 12 A380s on the Sydney-Singapore-London route, confirmed to CNN Travel that it aims to return a total of six before the end of the year, with a plan to bring back four more. before the end of the year .2024 (the remaining two will be permanently withdrawn).
Emirates, the largest operator of the A380, with 123 aircraft, is also preparing. We are working today […] More than half of our A380s, says Richard Yehudsbury, Vice President of Emirates UK. “By the end of the year, we aim to operate approximately 90 A380s across our network.” This means that more than a dozen other A380s will join those currently flying.
It was the last A380 produced, at the end of 2021, for Emirates Airlines. It is one of the few Emirates A380s to have a premium economy section, a mid-point between basic economy and business class.
It has proven popular enough that the airline plans to retrofit another 67 A380s with it, over the course of 18 months and beginning later this year. In this configuration, with four classes (First, Business Class, Premium Economy Class and Economy), the aircraft seats 484 passengers. In the most intense configuration, with two classes, Business Only and Economy, the Emirates A380 seats 615 passengers.
hard to sell
There are several reasons why airlines are becoming giants. “There is a lack of widebody capacity as some airlines such as British Airways have retired from using older aircraft such as the Boeing 747. There have also been some production issues with the new A350 etc. So some airlines need the capacity,” says Fan. “. Claverin.
This is not all. For some airlines, bringing the plane back into service makes sense because the value of the planes has fallen so low that they can no longer be sold.
“Some operators have found it very difficult to sell them, for many different reasons. If they don’t have any A380s, they certainly wouldn’t add them to their fleet, because it’s too risky and expensive,” says Van Claveren.
“The value of the 10-year-old A380 is down 60% compared to pre-pandemic times, to $30 million versus about $76 million, which is very unusual. [aerolíneas] They think it’s best to run them, because it costs them money to keep them airworthy.
Two airlines, Thai and Malaysia, have offered all of their A380s for sale, but they have not yet found buyers. The only other company to stick with is Etihad. The Abu Dhabi-based airline has 10 in its fleet, but it does not operate any of them and does not currently have confirmed plans to do so.
Compared to the bleak predictions two years ago, now may be the time to envision a brighter future for the giant aircraft.
“I think most airlines will continue to operate aircraft until the end of their useful life,” says Van Claveren. “The question is whether this life is very much like 18 years rather than 25, which is the age of most aircraft. Compared to new generation aircraft, they are really not very energy efficient.
As Emirates has a large number of A380s, the fate of the aircraft will largely be in their hands. “I think they will fly them again, because they are so important to their business model,” Van Klaveren says.
The Dubai-based airline continues to show its enthusiastic support for the aircraft.
Emirates Chairman Tim Clark told AirlineRatings that once the A380 is gone, it will leave a void that cannot be filled by any other aircraft currently in production: “I will build another A380 twice its size thanks to the zero-emissions engines. We now have four And maybe three engines.”
For now, the A380 is still well-received by customers around the world and will remain the company’s flagship aircraft for many years to come, says Richard Yehudsbury of Emirates Airlines.
“For us, the iconic double-decker design is redefining the travel experience and will continue to be a mainstay of our network plans.”