To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the Airbus A380’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG on Monday announced it will reactivate some of its super jumbo jets that were mothballed during the COVID pandemic because of the recent sharp rise in travel demand and the delayed delivery of ordered aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and 777-9.
The German flag carrier said it expects to use the long-haul aircraft beginning in the 2023 summer travel season. The company is assessing how many A380s to bring back and which destinations the Airbus will fly to.
Lufthansa (OTCUS: DKLAY) has 14 of the double-deck aircraft, which are currently stored in Spain and France. Six of the aircraft have been sold and eight remain part of Lufthansa’s fleet.
The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft at 239.5 feet long and 79 feet high. The Lufthansa configuration can seat 509 passengers.
The behemoth transporters never fully caught on with the flying public and airlines, leading Airbus to end production in 2021 after producing 251 aircraft for 14 customers.
The planes were designed as a way for airlines to offer more capacity at high-density air hubs with frequency limitations. But selling such a large four-engine aircraft proved difficult with the advent of more efficient, long-range twin-engine planes like the 787, 777-X and the Airbus A350, along with consumer interest in more direct flights. The size of the planes limited airlines’ flexibility in moving them to different routes as market conditions changed.
With crew and airport labor shortages and huge pent-up demand for flying, airlines see a rationale for the A380.
Lufthansa is the latest international carrier to reintroduce A380s.
All Nippon Airways is temporarily using three A380s on the Tokyo-to-Honolulu route. British Airways is using more A380s than it did in 2019 in part because it retired its fleet of Boeing 747s in 2020 and it operates out of congested London Heathrow airport. Qantas has three A380s in service, with two more soon expected to complete refurbishment, and is using them on routes from Australia to Los Angeles and London. Singapore Airlines is flying 10 A380s again, according to Simple Flying. The publication also reported that Korean Air next month will reintroduce the A380 for its Seoul-New York route, and begin using A380s to Hong Kong and Tokyo in September.
Aviation consultancy IBA, in a webinar last month, said about half the A380 fleet has returned to service in recent months. Emirates, the largest A380 operator with 116 aircraft, has redeployed 60% of its fleet, although not yet at full frequency.
Reactivating dormant planes parked in long-term storage is an extensive process. Technicians restart and test systems and lubricate gears and components before aircraft undergo a test flight. Then the planes must get a complete maintenance overhaul.
In April, Boeing pushed back expected delivery of the next-generation 777 widebody, the 777-9, until 2025, and paused production until the end of this year after reassessing how long it will take to meet certification requirements. Quality control issues have forced Boeing to suspend deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner for the past 20 months.
Airbus also has a large backlog for its A350 passenger jet.
Despite its size, the A380 was never great for cargo. Depending on the specific configuration, it had the same or less overall space in the belly as aircraft with far fewer seats. A full flight with lots of people and baggage can quickly crowd out most cargo, due to space and weight restrictions. A380 operators typically adapt by using small containers.