Retirement isn’t what it once was, at least not at Lufthansa. Next year, the German carrier will bring back the Airbus A380, which it “permanently decommissioned” during the pandemic, in order to meet resurgent travel demand.
Lufthansa cited the “steep rise in customer demand and the delayed delivery of ordered aircraft” for its decision to reactivate the up to eight A380s remaining in its fleet, the airline said June 27. It parked its 14 A380s in 2020 amid the precipitous decline in air travel, and has since sold six. The remaining superjumbo jets, which seat 509 passengers, will return to revenue service in summer 2023.
In May, Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr described travel demand as “enormous.” At the time, the airline planned to fly all that it could this summer within the constraints of “delayed aircraft [and] operational bottlenecks.” It also raised its full-year capacity guidance by 5 points to 75 percent of 2019. Lufthansa has since cancelled more than 3,000 flights in both July and August due to airport and other staffing issues in Germany.
Spohr spoke repeatedly last year about “modernizing” Lufthansa. This included retiring nearly all of the airline’s four-engine aircraft, including the A380s, as well as Airbus A340s and Boeing 747-400s. Only Lufthansa’s 747-8s were to remain. The group pivoted to acquiring more new, efficient, twin-engine Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s, both ordering additional new aircraft from the airframers and acquiring new models from lessors.
Since then, however, both Airbus and Boeing have faced supply chain issues that have delayed new deliveries. Boeing is especially challenged having not delivered a new 787 since mid-2021, and it delayed the entry-into-service of its new Boeing 777X until 2025 — nearly five years late. Lufthansa has orders for 27 777-9s. These issues have forced airlines around the world to find alternative aircraft to fly their schedules, including extending aircraft leases and bringing planes back from storage.
Lufthansa’s decision to bring back the A380s suggests that the delays it faces from both Airbus and Boeing, coupled with strong travel demand, outweighed its desire for quickly modernize its fleet.
But the return of the A380 is unique. Even before the pandemic, demand for the large passenger jet was waning. Many airlines saw it as too much airplane for the market, which increasingly favored smaller, more nimble models. Airbus announced in early 2019 that it would end production of the jet two years later with the final model delivered to Emirates in December 2021. The pandemic, which hastened many airlines’ shift to those more nimble aircraft, sped the exit of at least long-term storage of many A380s, including at Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines.
British Airways and Singapore Airlines were the first to resume A380 flights in November, followed by Qatar in December, and Qantas in January, according to Cirium schedules. But even with Lufthansa joining this global cohort, the future of the A380 looks dim the longer it is out of production and its numbers dwindle.
“With less and less airlines operating [the A380] — I do not know how much the cost will go up in the future. Whenever it is not rational anymore, I will look into retiring it,” Korean Air CEO Walter Cho said of the future of the aircraft with his carrier last October.
Lufthansa has not said when or where it will fly the A380 when the aircraft returns next summer. It previously flew the aircraft primarily from its Frankfurt hub, but also from Munich, to destinations including Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York JFK, and Shanghai Pudong, Cirium schedules show.