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What The Future Holds For The Airbus A380



A lot has happened over the past year in aviation. And much more will change as the market hopefully improves going forward. The impact on quadjets, though, is likely to be permanent. Many A380s have been retired already, and over the coming decade, they will become a rarer sight. There is currently a very limited second-hand market, but still a few possibilities other than scrap for these great aircraft.

Lufthansa, Airbus A380, Long Term Storage
Will retiring A380s avoid scrap and find other uses? Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The fall of the A380

The  Airbus A380 is a great aircraft and a significant achievement in aviation. It can carry more passengers long-haul than any aircraft so far – and likely for some time to come.

It has, though not worked out as well as hope for Airbus or airlines. Airbus bet big on the popularity of hub-based operating models, but more airlines have moved to point-to-point. And while the A380 has been popular at busy airports, allowing airlines to carry more passengers with each valuable slot, its size has limited use at many other airports. But the rise in efficiency and capability of twin-engine aircraft has really sealed the fate for quadjets such as the A380.

After Emirates reduced its order, Airbus announced the end of the program in 2019, with Emirates’ last aircraft to be constructed in 2021. It had a total of 251 orders from 14 airlines.

Boeing 777X, Delivery Delays, 2023
The next generation of high-capacity jets are twins – the upcoming 777X promises a capacity approaching that of quadjets. Photo: Getty Images

Retiring aircraft early

Even before the pandemic hit, the A380 was in decline. Several airlines (including Hong Kong Airlines, Kingfisher, and Virgin Atlantic) canceled orders before taking delivery. Others, including Qantas and Emirates, reduced their orders.

Singapore Airlines retired its first aircraft in 2017. And Emirates followed in October 2020 (it was planned before the 2020 slowdown).

And since the start of the pandemic, many aircraft have been grounded. Some have already been retired; many others will never return to service.

A380 air france parked
Air France retired its entire fleet in 2020 – the first casualty of the pandemic. Photo: Getty Images

Limited second-hand market

The obvious option for relatively young aircraft retiring early is to move to other airlines. This is seen across the world with retiring aircraft. Many airlines prefer to keep a flagship fleet of younger aircraft, and with this likely have lower operating costs and maintenance requirements. At the same time, other airlines are happy to take cheaper aircraft and keep them in service for longer.

So far, we have not seen this with the A380. The move away from high capacity four-engine aircraft is well established, and no airline has been keen to expand in this area. Many smaller airlines, of course, would not have a use for such a larger aircraft in any case.

Airbus A380 Getty
So far, the A380 has only flown with initial large airline purchasers (apart from one with Hi Fly). Photo: Getty Images

But all hope may not be lost. The A380 remains a great aircraft, and with a declining second-hand price, we may see future uptake. As the price drops and the market recovers, perhaps there will be interest. In early 2021, the price of a secondhand A380 had fallen 50% – the most of any aircraft type.

In March 2020, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury spoke about how he still saw a future for the A380. He cited their popularity with passengers and unrivaled space for additional cabin features as leading reasons.

And Emirates CEO Sir Tim Clark lent his support to the A380 recently. In an interview with Simple Flying, he stood by his fleet, expecting it to remain in use for at least the next 15 years. Likewise, he cites popularity with passengers as a key factor in its success. With ongoing delays to Boeing’s 777X program, they could be increasingly important.

Emirates, though has a unique relationship with the A380, having ordered 123 of the 251 aircraft delivered. It operates a true hub and spoke network and serves many busy slot-constrained airports where the A380 excels. It also benefits from the economics of such a large fleet.

Emirates has by far the largest A380 fleet and has made it work well. At the moment, it seems unlikely it would want more, though. Photo: Getty Images

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Charter use

If one airline cannot justify regular A380 operation, charter use for specialized flights may work better. The only second-hand A380 deal so far was with the Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly. It took one A380 second hand from Singapore Airlines and was used for many different charter operations. At one point, it was keen on taking a second aircraft, but in November 2020, it announced it would retire its only aircraft.

Hi Fly, Airbus A380, Retirement
Hi Fly is the only airline that has taken on a second-hand A380 but has now retired it. Photo: Getty Images

There are no signs yet of other charter or leasing companies being interested. High-capacity pilgrimage routes are one option that was explored. Malaysia Airlines, under its sub-brand Amal, tried this for the Kuala Lumpur to Mecca route. This used a standard fitted Malaysian Airlines A380, but specialized use could see the A380 carry as many as 853 passengers.

Use for freight

You would assume that such a large aircraft would be great for freight use or conversion. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. The A380 was originally planned with a freighter version, but Airbus dropped this to prioritize passenger aircraft deliveries following delays in the program. There was plenty of interest and orders for 27 aircraft.  With a payload of 150 tonnes, it would have been the largest freighter on the market apart from the one-off Antonov An-225.

Part of the problem with the freighter version was the aircraft size. There was simply too much space to be filled with cargo, and the aircraft would most likely reach its maximum load with space remaining. There were also loading issues with the two decks. Hi Fly did try to convert the aircraft for light freight use but saw limited demand.

Hi Fly, Airbus A380, Cargo A380
Hi Fly converted its Airbus A380 into a cargo aircraft. Photo: Hi Fly

There have once again been discussions about freighter use in 2021, though. According to the publication FreightWaves, Airbus is exploring with airlines the possibility of modifying the aircraft for cargo use, and possibly as a passenger and freight combi version.

Such a conversion is said to be technically possible but would take time to develop. It seems unlikely to be a solution for immediately retiring aircraft, but maybe it will become more attractive once greater numbers of aircraft are retiring from the Emirates fleet.

A380 Freighter
We may yet see an A380F freighter conversion. Photo: Getty Images

VIP or private use

We would all love to see an A380 modified for private use. The onboard space would allow some great facilities to be installed, and with fewer fittings and passengers, the range would be extended (this could be at least 17,000 kilometers according to Airbus data). But it has not happened yet. The issues which have held it back so far commercially are just as relevant for VIP use:

  • It is simply too big. There is a limit to what private users needs – and the 747 is already very large.
  • Airport restrictions due to its wingspan would be even more limiting than for the passenger version. Airlines can schedule on certain routes, whereas a private operator would want more flexibility.
  • As with the passenger version, operating costs and efficiency would work against it. A 767 or even a new 777X VIP jet would be much more efficient.
  • And as a final consideration, Boeing has been ahead in the very limited large VIP aircraft market for some time with the 747. Several clients ordered replacements with the 747-8, and the A380 would have been a hard sell.
The size and wingspan of the A380 restrict private operations significantly. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Despite the challenges, there have been some attempts. One aircraft was ordered new from Airbus in 2007 by His Royal Highness Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia but never completed. This was planned to be a luxurious affair with three lift-connected floors featuring a concert hall with stage and grand piano, 20 VIP suites, a car garage, and a Turkish bath.

For government use, it was briefly considered as a replacement for the current VC-25A modified 747-400s that serve as Air Force One.  However, Airbus declined to bid, as it felt that moving production to the US for just two aircraft would be prohibitively expensive.

And Geneva-based company Sparfell & Partners attempted to market four second-hand A380s as conversions to private jets.  These were proposed with a VIP conversion of either both decks or just the upper deck, but there was no takeup.

There was limited interest in Singapore Airlines’ secondhand A380s, but perhaps this would be different post-COIVD. Photo: Getty Images.

Price here is likely to be a significant issue. With the second-hand value of the A380 already dropping by 50%, it gets ever more appealing. Perhaps we will see VIP users being tempted at some point.

Scrap or storage

If other uses cannot be storage or scrap become the only options. If the market shows signs of improvement, scrapping aircraft may be delayed. But storage and preservation is an expensive option if there are no signs of change in the market.

Aircraft can be stored for future use, but only temporarily. Photo: Vincenzo Pace / Simple Flying

Scrapping an aircraft this size if of course, no simple task. But there is plenty of value in it, with many parts being recycled for further use. The engines, of course, are the most valuable, and with aircraft scrapped early, these are still very valuable. But parts of the interiors, avionics, wings, and landing gear can also be easily sold. Anything that remains will be broken down and recycled.

TARMAC Aerospace was the first company to be tasked with scrapping an A380. It completed this in 11 months and claims to have recycled over 90% of the aircraft. Others have since followed.

Aircraft scrap
Aircraft will eventually be broken down and recycled. Photo: Getty Images

It is a shame to see so many A380s retiring early and not find new uses. Do you think this will change over the coming years, or are most aircraft going to head to the scrapyard? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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Air New Zealand To Resume Norfolk Island Flights In August



Air New Zealand will restart its flights between Australia and Norfolk Island in late August. The Auckland-based airline previously operated flights between the Australian mainland and the isolated island territory. However, those flights ended those flights earlier this year. Now, after signing a deal with the Australian Government, Air New Zealand will resume flights until August 2023.

Air New Zealand has signed a two-year deal to resume flights to Norfolk Island. Photo: Getty Images

Three flights a week to Norfolk Island from Brisbane & Sydney

From August 31, Air New Zealand will operate flights to Norfolk Island (NLK) from Brisbane (BNE) three times weekly and Sydney (SYD) three times weekly. Air New Zealand will use 168 seat all-economy class Airbus A320-200 on the two routes.

Norfolk Island was first settled in 1788 and established as a penal colony for England’s most recalcitrant prisoners. The island is located approximately 930 miles (1500 kilometers) east of the Australian mainland. Norfolk Island’s permanent population of 2,170 is highly reliant on its air links.

“Ensuring reliable passenger air services for Norfolk Island remains a key priority for the Australian Government, and I am delighted that the extension of Air New Zealand’s services provides the community with certainty on this matter,” says Eric Hutchinson, Administrator of Norfolk Island.

Norfolk Island is now home to about 2,170 residents. Photo: Denisbin via Flickr

Norfolk Island flights an essential service

The Australian Government is providing Air New Zealand subsidies to fly to Norfolk Island. The Governments considers the flights an essential service.  Effective August 31, NZ914 will push back from Brisbane at 10:15 on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. The flight will land in Norfolk Island at 13:30. The return flights, NZ915,  will operate on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, departing Norfolk Island at 14:40 and touching down in Brisbane at 16:05

Air New Zealand’s nonstop flights from Sydney, NZ912, will depart that city at 09:55 on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday and arrive in Norfolk Island at 13:35. The return flights to Sydney, NZ913, will leave Norfolk Island at 14:40 on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. NZ913 will land in Sydney at 16:30.

“Air New Zealand has been operating between Australia and Norfolk Island since 2012 and was the only airline operating scheduled services between Norfolk and mainland Australia during 2020. We know our customers value these services, and we’re thrilled to be able to resume the route from late August,” says Air New Zealand’s Chief Operating Officer, Carrie Hurihanganui.

Qantas may end its Norfolk Island flights now Air New Zealand is resuming their flights. Photo: Getty Images

Air New Zealand sets up a crew base in Brisbane

Along with New Zealand, Norfolk Island is one of the very few offshore destinations Australians are free to fly to. However, Air New Zealand will temporarily establish a crew base in Brisbane to operate its Norfolk Island flights to minimize potential disruptions.

“Prior to the trans-Tasman bubble opening, crew operating domestic flights in Australia were required to have been in Australia for 14 days or have arrived in Australia on a quarantine-free flight. This, unfortunately, resulted in us having to suspend services between Norfolk Island and mainland Australia in February,” says Hurihanganui.

“Having crew based in Australia will ensure we avoid disruption should the Australian border close again.”

When Air New Zealand paused its Norfolk Island flights earlier this year, Qantas stepped into the breach. The Sydney-based airline is now operating government-subsidized Boeing 737-800 services from both Brisbane and Sydney. Those flights have proved relatively popular, especially with Qantas frequent flyers keen to burn some points. Qantas is yet to confirm whether it will continue its Norfolk Island flights after August.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Air Chathams resumed flying between Auckland and Norfolk Island last week after 12 months plus off the route. Air Chathams uses Saab 340 aircraft to fly to Norfolk Island weekly, with plans to increase to twice-weekly in August.

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Why Airlines Didn’t Like The Boeing 757-300



The narrowbody 757 has been a great success for Boeing. Across all variants, Boeing sold 1049 aircraft. And it remains popular with many airlines today, never really having a true replacement for its size and range. It’s not all been a success story, though. One of the two variants launched by Boeing was very much a failure, with just 55 sales. Read on to find out what went wrong.

Delta Boeing 757-300 Getty
The Boeing 757-300 is the longest narrowbody jet built, but was it too long? Photo: Getty Images

The two 757 variants

The Boeing 757 was designed as a more efficient, twin-engine successor to the popular Boeing 727. It first flew in 1982 and entered service with Eastern Air Lines in January 1983. This first variant was the 757-200. It offered a typical two-class capacity of 200 passengers (and a maximum of 239) and a maximum range of 7,250 kilometers.

Old American Airlines aircraft
American was a large operator of the 757-200 but retired them in 2020. Photo: Getty Images

The larger 757-300 entered service in 1999. This stretched the fuselage by just over seven meters (and at 54.5 meters, it is still the longest twinjet produced). Typical capacity increased to a massive 254 (with a maximum of 295), but the range took a hit down to 6,295 kilometers.

The 757-300 launched with European charter airline Condor, highlighting the intended market; high capacity use on leisure routes. Condor ordered it as a replacement for its DC-10s, but it could also be considered as a replacement for aging 767-200 aircraft.

In total, Boeing built and delivered 1049 757 aircraft (including freighter models). The 757-300 however saw only a fraction of these sales, with total family sales as follows (according to Boeing sales data):

  • 757-200: 913 aircraft
  • 757-200M (convertible version): 1 aircraft
  • 757-200PF (freighter version): 80 aircraft
  • 757-300: 55 aircraft
Condor 757-300
Charter airline Condor was the launch customer for the 757-300. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

Was the 757-300 just too long?

Boeing’s bet that the larger size would be popular just didn’t work out. Apart from a few niche areas, airlines were just not interested in the extra capacity, given the reduction in range (and higher operating cost).

It was useful for high-capacity routes and for operating at smaller airports (at that capacity, opting for the 767 was, of course, possible). This is evident from its take-up by charter airlines such as Condor and Thomas Cook. Schedules airlines struggled, though.

This was not just an economics and route decision for airlines. The simple fact was that the long single-aisle concept just didn’t work for many airlines. With single door access at gates, turnarounds were longer with aisle congestion. And passengers were less satisfied with the longer aisle and slower boarding and service as a result.

Delta 757-300
The 757-300 is so long that a tail skid is added to prevent tail strike incidents. Photo: formulanone via Wikimedia

Timing played a major part too

It was not just the specifications that let the 757-300 down. It was also a very late release by Boeing, entering service some 16 years after the 757-200. Perhaps if the 757-300 had been offered at launch, things would have worked out differently.

Many airlines that would have been interested were already operating the 757-200. And by that time, there was a lot more choice in the large narrowbody market. Airbus was offering the A321 and Boeing the high capacity variants of the 737 Next Generation series.

And don’t forget the events of 11th September 2001. This had a significant effect on all aircraft sales, and the 757-300 had only been in service for two years at that point. Sales dried up and production ended in 2004.

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Perhaps it was ahead of its time

It’s clear that with just 55 sales that the 757-300 was not popular. In fact, it is the second-lowest sales for any Boeing narrowbody, other than the short-lived 737-100 initial variant.

But that is not the whole story. It has gone on to be very popular with the airlines that operate it, as demonstrated by the fact that so many still remain in service today. Launch customer Condor still has 13 aircraft. And Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both operate large fleets, although many have been parked in 2020.

United 757-300
United still operates the 757-300. Photo: Bill Abbott via Wikimedia

And the high capacity, high range narrowbody model remains popular. The new Airbus A321XLR will offer only a slightly smaller capacity, but with a much-improved range, and has sold well ahead of its launch.

Boeing has not missed this, and (having shelved plans for the 797) is even considered re-launching the 757. Simple Flying considered this recently, perhaps as a 757X or 757 MAX version. This would be based on the popular 757, but with capacity more in the area of the 757-300. Of course, engine and technology improvements would address the range issues and also improve efficiency.

Would you like to share any thoughts or experiences of the 757-300? Would it have been more successful if it launched earlier or later? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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What Will Russia’s New Boeing 737 MAX Rival Bring To The Market?



Earlier this week, we covered the characteristics of the PD-14 engines that will be fitted on the Irkut MC-21. Following up on this, Simple Flying also some with Viktor Kladov, Director for International Cooperation and Regional Policy of the State Corporation Rostec, about what Russia’s upcoming narrowbody jet will bring to the market.

The Irkut MC-21 has been tipped to compete in similar segments as the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo. Photo: Rostec

Deliveries from next year

The MC-21-300 has a capacity of 211 passengers and a range of up to 6,000 km and is targeted to serve major markets in both Russia and across the nations. Presently, contracts are for the supply of aircraft to Russian airlines, with Aeroflot set to receive the first unit. Deliveries are expected from 2022. When this market is saturated and the capacity of the plane’s after-sales support system increases, the program is expected to scale up to foreign markets.

Irkut MC-21
Initially, the aircraft will operate on Russian medium-haul routes, but opportunities will open up after market maturation. Photo: Rostec

What to expect

Kladov explains that the key features of MC-21 are the widespread use of modern innovative solutions ensuring high flight and operational performance. He adds that among the innovations are engines with a high bypass ratio and other modern aircraft systems from Russian and international manufacturers.

“The aircraft has improved aerodynamics thanks to its high aspect ratio wings, made of composite materials for the first time on an aircraft of this class. The widest fuselage in its class (4.06 m) provides a new level of comfort. This provides advantages such as a wide aisle that allows a passenger to easily walk past a service cart,” Kladov told Simple Flying.

“Personal space and capacity of luggage racks are also more spacious. When designing the aircraft, our designers took into account the changed anthropometric characters of passengers recorded in modern decades. The level of air pressure in the aircraft cabin also provides increased comfort. On the MC-21, unlike other airliners of this class, it corresponds to the performance of long-haul widebody aircraft.”

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The current focus

Serial production for the aircraft was initially planned to start three years ago, and deliveries were expected to begin at the start of 2020, but there had been a series of delays over the years. However, there has been significant progress recently. Four MC-21-300s fitted with Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engines have been undergoing tests. Moreover, in December, the MC-21-310, an edition equipped with Russia’s PD-14 engines, took off for the first time.

Irkut MC-21 Jet
A major goal is the deployment of an effective after-sales service system. Photo: Rostec

Rostec explains that its main priorities are obtaining a certificate for MC-21-300, finishing the production process of the first models, and delivering them to the customer. The serial assembly is carried out at the Irkutsk Aviation Plant, and last month, the first serial outer wing panel made of Russian composite materials was delivered there. The next stage is to complete the certification of the MC-21-310 and begin its serial production.

What are your thoughts about the prospects of the MC-21? Are you looking forward to the introduction of the plane? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and its prospects in the comment section.

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What Happened To Iberia’s Airbus A300s?



Spanish flag carrier Iberia presently operates an all-Airbus fleet. Models from the A320 and A320neo families serve the Madrid-based airline’s short-haul operations. Meanwhile, the A330 and next-generation A350 represent Iberia further afield. However, did you know that the carrier also used to operate the Airbus A300? Let’s explore its relationship with the type.

Iberia Airbus A300
The A300’s time at Iberia lasted more than two decades. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Iberia’s first Airbus design

As we have established, all of Iberia’s present aircraft are Airbus designs. The airline’s close relationship with the European manufacturing juggernaut goes back a long way, and it all started with the A300. This was Airbus’s first production model, as well as being the world’s first-ever widebody airliner to have just two engines. All in all, a game-changing plane.

In March this year, Iberia celebrated the fact that it was 40 years since its first A300 arrived. This was an A300B4-120, whose registration was EC-DLE. It bore the name Doñana, and entered service on a flight to Paris Orly. Iberia’s relationship with the A300 had begun.

The other deliveries

Aviation database lists a further seven A300s as having been on Iberia’s books. All of these also belonged to the A300B4 variant, which had entered service with Germanair in 1975. It had a greater fuel capacity than the A300B2, and wing-root Krüger flaps.

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Iberia Airbus A300
The A300B4 featured improvements over the A300B2. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

In terms of when Iberia’s A300s arrived, 1981 proved the busiest year. In addition to the aforementioned first delivery, the Spanish carrier received a further three A300s in March and April that year. Another pair followed in February 1982.

Iberia’s final two A300s joined the airline towards the end of the decade, following a seven-year hiatus in the airline’s deliveries of the type. These joined in April 1989, although they had been re-registered by August that year. Having initially been designated as EC-273 and EC-274, they went on to fly under the registrations of EC-EON and EC-EOO respectively.

When did they leave?

The A300 proved a hit at Iberia, and all of the examples that it received in the 1980s remained with the airline for their entire careers. Interestingly, lists one more example that Iberia briefly operated leased from TransAer International Airlines in October 1997. Registered as EI-CJK, it had an all-economy 314-seat cabin.

Iberia Airbus A300
EC-DNQ’s front section has been preserved to train crew. Photo: Tim Rees via Wikimedia Commons

Other than that, all of Iberia’s A300s just about made it into the 21st century. January of that year saw its first A300, EC-DLE, leave the fleet for scrapping in Madrid aged just shy of 20 years. This fate also befell EC-EOO. 2001 saw one more departure, that of EC-EON.

This left Iberia with five remaining A300s, but all of these would be gone by the end of the following year. They departed in June 2002, bringing the airline’s relationship with the A300 to an end. That being said, one example has been partially preserved. Specifically, the front section of EC-DNQ now serves as a crew trainer in Valencia.

Did you ever fly on one of Iberia’s A300s? If so, when, and where did the Airbus widebody take you? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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