By Charlotte Seet
British Airways Hints at Return of A380s With Extended Maintenance Contract
almost all commercial aircraft variants, regardless of manufacturer, have felt some type of impact from the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Airbus A380 has certainly been dealt the worst of it when the greater majority of the global fleet was grounded.
Worse still, international carriers such as Air France and Lufthansa had made the decision that their superjumbo aircraft would not be returning into service at what is now seen as the beginning of the pandemic, with the former having retired its entire fleet.
Holding the title as the world’s largest and most expensive passenger aircraft, the A380 also tragically holds the title as the passenger aircraft with the world’s shortest production, with less than two decades and slightly over 250 orders under its belt. Previously met with praise as the superjumbo of the decade, the A380 was later criticized for its inefficiency during the aviation industry’s worst-hit moments from the pandemic as the two full decks were uneconomical for airlines to operate with lessening passenger demand. Airbus’s unwillingness to redevelop the A380 with a neo variant, as it has done with the A320 and A330 family, ultimately resulted in fewer aircraft purchases from its biggest customer, Emirates, which is probably now relieved it didn’t have a huge order on its books.
Despite all the sudden shortcomings, the Airbus superjumbo may still see light on the horizon, especially as the resumption of air travel in certain markets picks up a steady pace once again.
From about as early as February this year, a handful of A380s from various carriers – such as Singapore Airlines – have been rescued from Australia’s Alice Springs “boneyard” for maintenance programs or scheduled retrofitting.
Australian flag carrier Qantas has hinted that the aircraft could return back to operating within its fleet by next year as demand slowly pulls back up, Emirates has already re-instated a dozen or so super-jumbos on its worldwide network.
Another carrier to rescue its superjumbo would be British Airways, and this rescue seems to be speeding up periodically as the carrier is dropping big hints at the possible resurrection of the aircraft. Unlike its fellow European carriers, BA has always insisted it would keep the A380 within its fleet, after removing around 30 Boeing 747’s from its operations due to cost-cutting, the A380 is the British flag carrier’s biggest aircraft.
At the time of article publication, three of British Airway’s A380s were in storage in Teruel, Spain, three in Doha, Qatar, and 6 in Madrid, Spain. A handful of these have operated flights to London for maintenance before returning to the warm weather environment suitable for aircraft storage.
And the horizons for the superjumbo just keeps getting brighter, as, on Wednesday, Aug. 4, Lufthansa Technik announced that British Airways has extended its Base Maintenance Services contract for its Airbus A380s.
The contract is extended to run from August 2022 for an additional five years, allowing for the British carrier’s AA380s to be maintained at the Lufthansa Technik Philippines facility in Manila.
In a press release, Dave Exon, Technical Director of British Airways, said, “Safety is at the heart of everything we do and we’re delighted to extend our existing A380 base maintenance contract with Lufthansa Technik as a result of the continued excellent standard of service provided by Lufthansa Technik Philippines.”
Considered as long-term partners, British Airways has been contracting Lufthansa Technik for its A380s for five years and counting, with the airline hinting that the contract extension hints that the superjumbo has “secured slots for the foreseeable future”.
The reason for the possible return of the British Airways quad-engined giant could be due to the massive and sudden surge in bookings, as the return of an aircraft of this size would have to financially make sense. Prior to the pandemic, BA stringently chose its A380 network based on existing passenger numbers, utilizing the aircraft to destinations such as Los Angeles, Washington, San Franciso, Johannesburg and Hong Kong where demand for premium seats to and fro London was high and aircraft would maintain a high passenger load factor.
Since the shut down of commercial flights in March of last year, airlines across the planet have had to get used to sudden and abrupt changes by national governments, dictating where passengers can fly from without the requirement of quarantining. For British Airways to return the A380 to scheduled operations, the United States would need to open its borders to travelers that are fully vaccinated, giving confidence to the airlines that future abrupt changes would not happen again.
Last week the British government confirmed that any vaccinated passengers arriving from the United States would not need to quarantine, within hours of the announcement of lifted restrictions, however, the British carrier saw new bookings from the U.S soar through 95%, from major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. U.K. airlines are now waiting for the reciprocal to happen with an announcement from the Biden Administration expected within the next few weeks.
As a response, British Airways announced that it was going to be adding extra seats on these key routes, as well as an increase in flight frequencies to cater to the rising demand.
Sean Doyle, British Airways Chairman and CEO said, “We are very much looking forward to welcoming new visitors from the US and EU to the UK from next week, many of which will be reuniting with their family members for the first time in many months. This move will also help boost the British economy and the hospitality sector, which like aviation, has been crippled by the effects of the pandemic.