Planes with four engines are increasingly becoming a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic:
- British Airways, Qantas, and Virgin Atlantic have retired their 747s
- Air France has retired its A380s
- Lufthansa is retiring its A380s and A340-600s
- It looks increasingly likely that Etihad will retire its A380 fleet
Well, now it seems that another Gulf carrier may be heading in the direction of retiring its A380 fleet, at least based on reading between the lines…
Qatar Airways won’t fly A380 for at least a couple of years
Qatar Airways grounded its 10-strong Airbus A380 fleet back in March, and the airline has gone so far as to attack other airlines for flying the A380 right now, calling it “unethical.”
That being said, we haven’t heard much one way or another about when we should expect the A380 to return to the skies at Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways has a fleet of 10 A380s
Well, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker made some comments about the future of the A380 during FlightGlobal’s Airlines 2050 Conference yesterday. Al Baker said that:
- Qatar Airways won’t operate its A380s for “at least” the next couple of years (which puts us to late 2022)
- The growth rate would have to be equivalent to the one in 2019 for the airline to even consider it
- Even if demand starts to increase, A380s could only be filled “if you dump the price, and once you dump the price, you become unsustainable”
A few more things to note about Qatar Airways’ A380 fleet:
- Prior to the pandemic, Qatar Airways operated its A380s to Frankfurt, London, Melbourne, Paris, Perth, and Sydney
- The Doha-based carrier’s A380 fleet is still quite young, with the planes having only been delivered between 2014 and 2018
- A380s are the only planes that Qatar Airways has that feature long haul first class, though Al Baker also claims that the concept of first class is obsolete
- Prior to the pandemic, Qatar Airways planned to retire its A380s at the 10 year mark, between 2024 and 2028
Qatar Airways’ A380s feature first class
Why I think Qatar Airways’ A380s may never fly again
Al Baker says it will be at least a couple of years before Qatar Airways flies its A380s again. The reality is that Qatar Airways has a huge number of aircraft on order, including 30 Boeing 787-9s, 50 Boeing 777-9s, and 28 Airbus A350-1000s.
While the airline is trying to defer delivery of as many of these planes as possible, realistically the airline will be getting dozens of new planes per year within a few years:
- Qatar Airways placed these orders based on expectation of continued linear(ish) growth
- Many expect that travel won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest, which means the industry will be at least four years behind Qatar Airways’ growth expectations
- If the airline is stuck taking delivery of newer, smaller, and more fuel efficient planes anyway, there’s very little reason to A380s around, especially given that they don’t even feature Qsuites
Qatar Airways has dozens of 777-9s on order
Personally I think it’s more likely than not that Qatar Airways will simply end up retiring its A380 fleet. The airline simply has so many long haul aircraft on order that it’s hard to imagine any sort of growth trajectory where having A380s again would make sense. Never mind the fact that the airline wasn’t particularly happy with A380s even pre-pandemic.
Qatar Airways’ CEO claims the airline won’t fly A380s for at least another couple of years. That’s not surprising, but if that’s the case then it also seems highly likely that the plane just won’t make a return at all.
The airline has over 100 wide body aircraft on order, many of which are to be delivered in the next few years. Even a recovery to 2019 levels won’t be sufficient to sustain A380s — the airline needs huge growth beyond that for the super jumbos to make sense again.
What do you think — is this the end for Qatar Airways’ A380s?