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A380 superjumbo could be permanently retired over low demand during pandemic

Did coronavirus kill the super-jumbo jet? Ninety per-cent of the world’s 550-passenger Airbus A380s are grounded by pandemic and they could be out of action for ‘years’… or forever

  • Only 21 out of 243 Airbus A380s were still in service at the start of December
  • Production set to end in 2021 over lack of business except with Emirates
  • Pandemic’s peak disruption saw only 13,600 flights in a 24-hour period in April

The world’s largest passenger airliner could be headed for an early retirement amid a huge dip in demand during the coronavirus pandemic, a new study has suggested. 

Over 90 per cent of A380s – nicknamed ‘superjumbos’ – have spent the last nine months grounded and it is unclear when or if they will be airborne again.

According to Cirium, the aviation data company, only 21 out of 243 Airbus A380s were still in service at the start of this month because of concerns over rising costs and low passenger demand.

Airlines and airports have all seen huge reductions in flights, with many forced to cancel as countries closed their borders early on in the pandemic. 

Another three were retired. The figures do not include those kept by Airbus as test aircraft. 

The world’s largest passenger airliner could be headed for an early retirement because of huge dip in demand during the pandemic. Over 90 per cent of A380s have spent the last nine months grounded

Air France became the first carrier to permanently withdraw the superjumbo, accelerating a plan to prematurely retire its 10 A380s by the end of 2022.

Across the border in Germany, Lufthansa has removed all its A380s as well as single-deck A340-600s from future planning.

Singapore Airlines, the type’s second-largest operator, decided to permanently retire seven of its 19 stored A380s because of the crisis.

Qatar Airways, meanwhile, does not foresee its 10 stored A380s returning for at least two years, and Etihad Airways, another Middle Eastern operator with a 10-strong fleet, said it was awaiting ‘sufficient appetite to reassess [the A380’s] viability’.

According to Cirium, the aviation data company, only 21 out of 243 Airbus A380s were still in service at the start of this month because of concerns over rising costs and low passenger demand. Pictured: An empty Heathrow Terminal 5

According to Cirium, the aviation data company, only 21 out of 243 Airbus A380s were still in service at the start of this month because of concerns over rising costs and low passenger demand. Pictured: An empty Heathrow Terminal 5

Only UAE-based Emirates, who have by far the largest fleet, continue to expand their fleet, with eight more on order. Production is set to end in 2021.

Only UAE-based Emirates, who have by far the largest fleet, continue to expand their fleet, with eight more on order. Production is set to end in 2021.

UAE-based Emirates, who have by far the largest fleet, has eight more on order, and production is set to end in 2021.

Aircraft usually have a lifespan of 30 years, suggesting the Airbus, which was first introduced in 2007, has had its flying years cut short significantly. 

The study – the 2020 Airline Insights Review – said that the consequences of the virus had ‘wiped out 21 years of global aviation growth in a matter of months’, with passenger numbers dropping to levels not seen since 1999. Throughout the year, traffic has declined by 67 per cent compared with 12 months earlier. 

At the peak of the disruption in April, only 13,600 flights were registered globally in one 24-hour period, which was down by 86 per cent compared with the number at the start of January. 

It follows the demise of the Boeing 747 ¿ the world's second biggest passenger aircraft, typically seating 366 ¿ which was retired by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic earlier this year.

It follows the demise of the Boeing 747 – the world’s second biggest passenger aircraft, typically seating 366 – which was retired by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic earlier this year.

Jeremy Bowen, Cirium chief executive, said in the report: ‘This severe setback shows the true extent of the challenge faced by the struggling aviation sector as it has sought to reset itself in the new post Covid-19 era.’ 

It follows the demise of the Boeing 747 – the world’s second biggest passenger aircraft, typically seating 366 – which was retired by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic earlier this year.  

The report said: ‘Larger aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380 will be retired sooner than expected. Some aircraft types will be converted to cargo.’

Michael Gubisch, Cirium Dashboard’s aerospace editor, said: ‘As airlines parked aircraft en masse amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Airbus A380 was probably the most prominent type for which widespread decommissioning was accompanied by uncertain prospects of the aircraft ever returning.’

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