The return of half of Qatar Airways’ 10-strong fleet of Airbus A380’s is slated for November reports Executive Traveller who spoke with the airline’s chief executive Akbar Al Baker on the issue. Qatar Airways grounded its A380 superjumbos at the start of the pandemic and repeatedly suggested the planes could be grounded for years or even retired forevermore.
In fact, only a few days ago, Qatar Airways revealed it had taken a multi-billion-dollar impairment on its fleet of A380’s, as well as several smaller Airbus jets which have been grounded during the pandemic.
In January, Al Baker renewed his desire to keep the A380 grounded, describing the plane as “worst aircraft when it comes to emissions that is flying today.” He continued: “That is why we have decided that we will not operate them for the foreseeable future – and even when we will operate them, we will only operate half of the numbers we have.”
But on Wednesday, Al Baker told Executive Traveller that he had been taken by surprise with the rapid shift in demand for air travel and that at least five of the mothballed A380’s would have to be prepared for service in time for November and ahead of the Christmas travel crunch.
“I think by early November we’ll be starting to fly the A380s again,” Al Baker told David Flynn. “At the moment we are looking at flying five, but we may have to fly all ten.”
“We grounded the A380s at the beginning of the pandemic, and we never wanted to fly them again,” he continued.
Al Baker has previously criticised other airlines that had pressed their A380’s back into service – a guarded dig at regional rival Emirates which has embarked on an aggressive mission to get its huge fleet of A380’s back in the air.
But Qatar Airways is facing a capacity crunch because 13 Airbus A350 jets have been removed from service on the back of a dispute with the aircraft manufacturer and a decision by Qatar’s aviation regulator to ground the planes for safety reasons.
Qatar Airways has also stopped receiving new deliveries of the fuel efficient twin-engine long-haul aircraft. The airline has already reactivated some A330 aircraft as it bridges the capacity gap.
Despite the environmental concerns of operating quad engined planes instead, Al Baker said the carrier had little alternative. “We have to find capacity for our passengers who need airlines to take them to their loved ones for Christmas.”
In just a few weeks, Qatar Airways has to rehire pilots that it made redundant at the start of the pandemic and then get them trained. That will incur another environmental hit – flying empty A380’s around with no passengers onboard.
Cabin crew will also have to be trained to operate the planes again.
This isn’t, however, the first time the Qatar Airways A380 has made a return during the pandemic. The carrier was one of the service operators of the A380 to ground the type in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak as travel demand quickly ebbed away.
But in late March, as the likes of Emirates and Etihad grounded their entire fleets, Qatar Airways reactivated its A380’s for a small number of repatriation flights.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.