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Asia-Pacific airlines are gradually reactivating A380s – although many will not return

Analysis

Airbus A380s have been a rare sight in Asia-Pacific skies over the past few years, but the recent surge in international demand has resulted in more airlines bringing A380s out of storage.

Airlines grounded most of their widebody fleets when the COVID-19 crisis hit in early 2020.

A380s being the largest aircraft in operation, and therefore the hardest to fill, virtually all A380s in the Asia-Pacific region were put into long term storage. A380s have been among the slowest of the widebody models to return, but now many of the region’s airlines are gradually reactivating these aircraft.

The A380 fleet is steadily rebuilding, although it will not fully return to its pre-pandemic size. Some Asia-Pacific airlines have decided to cut down, or even phase out, their A380 fleets as a result of restructuring and strategic reviews during the COVID-19 crisis.

Summary:

  • The proportion of A380s in service in Asia-Pacific airline fleets has risen to nearly 35%.
  • A380 operators are planning to return more A380s to service in the coming months of 2022.
  • Singapore Airlines and Qantas have permanently retired some of their A380s.
  • Korean Air is gradually reactivating A380s, but longer-term future is in question.
  • Malaysia Airlines will dispose of all of its A380s; Thai Airways may do the same.

The number of A380s in service has been rising more quickly, and will continue to do so this year

There were 65 A380s in service in the Asia-Pacific region in Jan-2020, according to the CAPA fleet database. Two months later the total in service dropped to just four as most were grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Asia-Pacific A380 fleet in service stayed at 5-7 aircraft through Oct-2021, but has been steadily rising since then.

There were 12 in service in Jan-2022, and this number has now reached a two-year high of 22. This represents a rate in service of 34.9%. The A380 total in service will continue to climb through the remainder of 2022.

Asia-Pacific A380 fleet: in service versus inactive (including Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Southwest Pacific regions)

 

While the A380 rate in service is increasing, it is still far lower than for other widebody models. There are currently 1,364 passenger widebody aircraft in service in the Asia-Pacific region, versus 322 inactive.

This represents a rate of 80.9% in service.

Asia-Pacific passenger widebodies: in service vs inactive (including Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Southwest Pacific regions)

Singapore Airlines and Qantas will add back more A380s, but some will be retired

Singapore Airlines is the region’s largest operator of A380s, with 10 in service. Two more will be reactivated after retrofits are completed.

The airline had 19 before the pandemic began, and it announced in Nov-2020 that seven of these would not return to service.

Qantas sent all 12 of its A380s into storage in the US in 2020. Two of them are being retired early and will not re-enter service with Qantas.

The Australian airline has now reactivated three of the remaining 10, which are used on Sydney-Singapore-London and Sydney-Los Angeles routes. Two more A380s are expected to return to service by the end of Aug-2022, and they will also be used on Sydney-Los Angeles flights. A sixth will be activated by the end of Dec-2022.

Qantas has accelerated the timeline for the return of its A380s. When it first parked these aircraft, the airline estimated that they would remain grounded for at least three years.

Other Asia-Pacific airlines are also reactivating more of their A380s

Korean Air has 10 A380s in its fleet. It is currently operating two of these, with the second having returned to service in Jul-2022. These aircraft are being used for daily flights on the Seoul-New York route and three weekly flights to Hong Kong.

The airline plans to activate a third A380 in Sept-2022, which will be deployed on daily flights to Tokyo.

The longer-term future of Korean’s A380s is less certain.

In 2021 the airline raised the prospect of retiring its A380s within five years, although Korean has since stressed that plans for these aircraft are yet to be confirmed.

All Nippon Airways resumed flying two of its A380s in Jul-2022. The airline ordered three of these aircraft, to be used exclusively on its routes from Tokyo to Hawaii. The first two entered service in 2019.

ANA has a third A380 that has been delivered but is yet to enter service. In the meantime, this aircraft has been used for some customer events on the ground, such as a restaurant experience.

China Southern is operating all three of its A380s. The airline previously had five, but it cut two from its fleet in the first half of 2022.

Asiana Airlines is operating two of its six A380s.

Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways have not resumed A380 services

Two other Asia-Pacific airlines have A380s in their fleet but have kept them all grounded. This includes six aircraft each for Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines.

Malaysia Airlines has said that its A380s will be sold and will not return to service with the airline. The airline is in serious discussions with some parties regarding the disposal of the aircraft, CEO Izham Ismail said recently.

Malaysia Airlines expects these aircraft to have left the group by the end of this year.

Thai Airways has listed two of its six A380s for sale. However, the fate of the other four remains uncertain, and there is a strong possibility that they will not feature in the airline’s post-pandemic plans.

The Asia-Pacific A380 fleet will survive, in a somewhat smaller form

The disruption of the coronavirus pandemic accelerated A380 fleet decisions that some airlines were probably already considering. In certain cases the pandemic presented fleet restructuring opportunities that enabled airlines to shrink their A380 stables.

But while there are a few Asia-Pacific A380 operators that want to cut the type from their fleet altogether, the majority still see a viable role for the aircraft in their international networks. The range and capacity of the A380 is a good match on certain trunk routes.

The international demand rebound is prompting these airlines to bring A380s out of storage more quickly.

But in this region, at least, the airlines are unlikely to change their minds about the aircraft they had already earmarked for retirement. So while A380s will continue to feature in Asia-Pacific networks for the foreseeable future, it will be a scaled-back fleet.

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