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Airlines Bring Back Airbus A380s as International Travelers Return

Edward Russell
October 14th, 2021 at 10:10 AM EDT

Singapore Airlines is the latest global carrier to return its Airbus A380s to regular service amid the pick up in long-haul international travel. With the superjumbo scheduled to return in November, SIA joins the likes of British Airways, Qantas Airways and Qatar Airways in bringing the plane back earlier than previously planned.

SIA will re-introduce the A380 on flights between Singapore and London Heathrow on November 18, the airline said Thursday. The move is in response to strong demand following the announcement that the UK would be included in Singapore’s vaccinated travel lane program, which allows travelers with their Covid-19 jabs and a negative test to enter Singapore without quarantining, from October 19. SIA’s A380s seat 471 passengers compared to 253 passengers on the Airbus A350-900s and 264 passengers on the Boeing 777-300ERs that the carrier is currently operating its Singapore-London flights.

Airlines around the world are seeing strong demand for long-haul flights when governments ease Covid-19 entry restrictions. After the U.S. announced that it would allow vaccinated travelers in from early November, several carriers reported triple-digit jumps in bookings, including an up to 600 percent increase at Virgin Atlantic. Those increases have prompted airlines to resume suspended flights, especially to leisure destinations, ahead of the year-end holidays. Reintroducing large aircraft like the A380 is another way to capture the “pent-up demand” so many industry executives have cited in their recovery outlooks.

The return of the A380 comes after many wrote off the plane early in the pandemic. Amid the precipitous drop in air travel last year, most airlines around the world put the aircraft — the largest passenger jets in regular service — in storage with the question of whether they would ever left unanswered. But in the just the past few weeks, the answer to that question has proven an unequivocal yes with a spate of service resumption announcements.

British Airways will bring back four of its 12 A380s on European flights in November to re-familiarize crews, before shifting the jets to flights to Dubai, Los Angeles and Miami in December. Qantas has pulled forward the return of five of its 12 A380s to next July with CEO Alan Joyce saying in August that the carrier expects demand to London and Los Angeles to warrant the extra capacity at that point. And Qatar, a year after CEO Akbar Al Baker called the A380 the airline’s “biggest mistake,” plans to return several of its A380s as soon as November to cover for other aircraft that remain grounded.

“This aircraft could well come into its own,” said Emirates President Tim Clark on the outlook for the A380 earlier in October. He cited the aircraft’s low carbon emissions per passenger and ability to fly large numbers of travelers to slot-controlled airports like London Heathrow and Sydney for his view. Emirates is the largest operator of the A380 with 115 in its fleet.

But the A380s future is far from certain despite its return at more airlines. Air France and Lufthansa both retired their fleets of the jet citing a need for simplification and efficiency during the crisis. And Korean Air Chairman and CEO Walter Cho has cited rising costs as a result of fewer superjumbos in operation for its plan to retire the fleet within five years.

“Whenever it is not rational anymore, I will look into retiring it,” Cho said of the A380 earlier in October. Korean Air operates 10 A380s.

The number of A380 flights globally is slowly coming back. Airlines are scheduled to operate 1,605 flights in October and 2,237 in November, according to Cirium schedule data. However, those numbers are down 84 percent and 77 percent, respectively, compared to 2019.

And at the beginning of October, only 20 percent of the global fleet of the 245 A380s were in service, Cirium fleet data show.

Edward Russell
October 14th, 2021 at 10:10 AM EDT

Photo credit: Singapore Airlines plans to resume A380 flights in November. Singapore Airlines

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