The Airbus A380 unlocked new potential in long-haul air travel. It’s the aircraft that’s enabled airlines to offer plush First Class suites onboard the jet, as well as bar and lounge areas while having seating accommodation for 500+ passengers. But while the aircraft is considered a passenger favourite for many — the same cannot be said for airline executives who are focused on the financial performance of each route.
Now in early 2019 — the A380 is increasingly perceived as ‘inefficient’, especially as lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the A350 XWB secure their place in the air travel market. While both Japan’s All Nippon Airways, and UAE’s Emirates are still to take delivery of further A380 jets, Airbus is preparing to announce the closure of A380 production earlier than planned.
In an exclusive sit-down interview with Qatar Airways CEO Mr Al Baker in Doha, the State of Qatar, Al Baker told Aviation Analyst that the airline is planning to retire its A380 jets over the coming years. “For the A380s, on the 10thanniversary, we will retire them,” said Al Baker. Qatar Airways first took delivery of their first A380 ‘A7-APA’ in September 2014, and has 10 superjumbos in its fleet, operating to destinations including London Heathrow, Guangzhou, Melbourne and Sydney. “Once we have paid our financial obligations, they will go” he added.
A ten-year-old jet is still considered young, but the second-hand market is virtually non-existent for the A380, not because of a lack of available aircraft, but because the demand isn’t there, at least not for now.
Al Baker told me “We don’t see any secondary market opportunity. There are ex-Singapore Airlines A380 jets that nobody wants, and this year, there will be aircraft available to the second-hand market from Emirates” — implying the Emirati carrier will have to give up some A380s due to over-ordering.
With the first A380 set to depart the Qatar Airways fleet around 2024, the carrier will need a replacement jet capable of flying Doha to Melbourne, Sydney and other destinations nonstop, without having to reduce passenger capacity…
…the Boeing 777X.
“The 777X will replace the A380 on routes, including to Australia” Al Baker exclusively revealed to Aviation Analyst. Qatar Airways is a launch customer of the aircraft, but crucially, not the launch operator. “We will let a couple of airlines take it and clear all of the bugs from it first. It means we will be one of the launch operators, but not the launch operator” Al Baker clarified — ending a long period of confusion (inside the aviation industry) over whether or not the Doha-based carrier will be the first to fly Boeing’s new flagship.
Both variants of the 777X – the 777-8 and 777-9 – have range capabilities similar to the 8,000 nautical mile range of the A380, making the jet an obvious A380 replacement, especially when considering the large onboard passenger seating capacity.
However, Al Baker was keen to highlight that the 777X wouldn’t be the sole replacement aircraft on A380 routes. “Once Airbus extends the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of the A350-1000 XWB, this jet will be able to do, with lesser capacity, the same routes as the 777X,” he told me.
“Airbus has told us that from next year they will increase the maximum take-off weight” Al Baker added.
Currently, Qatar Airways operates the A350-900 on just one Australian route, Adelaide — but launching flights to Sydney and Melbourne operated by the A350-1000 requires Airbus to certify the jet for a heavier take-off weight than it’s currently certified for today.
Al Baker’s exclusive comments reveal that the A380 has less than five years in the Qatar Airways fleet, prior to the first one being retired and replaced by the 777X. It means the fleet will consist of two of the world’s most efficient long-haul jets, each able to offer a consistent passenger experience. However, given the admiration, many passengers have for the superjumbo, almost somewhat of a shame to know that the exit of such a passenger favourite jet is already being planned.
Boeing expects the 777X to take its first flight this year, powered by GE Aviation GE9X turbofans — the largest fan ever produced for a commercial aircraft.