Only a bit more than a year ago, in May 2021, the shocking news was all around the portals. It seemed that the A380 was coming to an end of its short life as many airlines seemed unhappy with the performance and the issues caused by the pandemic.
In my opinion, looking back, it was the biggest mistake we did, to purchase A380sAkbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways
Once upon a time – a year ago
In summer 2022 the world was facing its second year of a never-seen-before global pandemic. In 2021, aviation began to recover but was still far away from pre-COVID numbers. With not even 2.3 billion passengers 2021 was only around 2006. To compare: 2019 (the year with the highest number so far) ended with more than 4.5 billion passengers. 2020, where the pandemic hit strong from March, ended with 1.8 billion passengers. These numbers are important to understand. They show that the whole situation was changed within a short period of time.
Once upon a time – at the beginning of the Millenium
Other than in 2006, the overall mood was negative. 2006 was in a phase of the growing economy, the effects of 9/11 were fading and the whole industry was ready to jump into the next time age. Under these circumstances and the prognosed growth, airlines were excited to use and float in Airbus’ new flagship – the A380. Until COVID, the yearly passenger numbers kept growing. Even the financial crisis in 2008 had only a minor stagnation as a consequence and the industry recovered fast. With this development, the airlines were happy to use the A380 and used it also as the flagship of their entire fleet.
Hit be the pandemic, the world did change. With fewer passengers, there was an overall surplus of aircraft. Pictures of grounded aircraft all over the world were in the media. Even with the increasing demand in 2021, the load factors were no longer justifying using the A380. In addition to the fewer passenger demand, increasing fuel costs had a negative influence on the financial performance of the aircraft (the negative aspect of 4 engines). In a conclusion, many airlines reduced their fleet of A380s or even completely stopped their operation, such as Air France.
2022 is different than the years before. Yes, the virus is still around, but thanks to the vaccination the world returned to normal. While the world enjoys being back to normality, aviation is still far away from the ordinary. During the past two years, staff (airlines, ground handlers, catering companies, etc.) was made redundant. Now – all of a sudden (really so surprising?) – this staff force would be bitterly needed. Despite hiring initiatives since the start of the year, the companies struggle to build up the requested workforce, which results in delays and high-scale cancellations.
This brings back the big bird. With only one flight, more passengers can be transported. One flight means fewer side costs such as airport fees, ground handling fees, planning, and scheduling, or cabin crews. With high load factors, the A380 can support the airlines a bit in the current situation, release pressure and allow passengers to enjoy the long-awaited holidays.
And the future?
Well, it is difficult to say, what the future will look like. There are still many variables that can change the whole setup (COVID19, monkeypox, staff shortage with strikes…). As it seems difficult to build up the requested workforce levels for all involved parties, the difficult situation does not look to be completely resolved by next summer. Especially keeping in mind the increasing passenger number predictions. Maybe we can still enjoy the A380 much longer than expected.