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Joyce says it’s ‘heartbreaking’ to see Qantas A380s in the desert

written by Adam Thorn | February 3, 2021
VH-OQA rotates from Melbourne Airport Qantas A380
A Qantas A380 departs from Melbourne Airport (Dave Soda)

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has said he believes the airline’s A380 fleet will still be profitable when the COVID crisis ends.

In an interview with Brussels-based Eurocontrol, Joyce said it was “heartbreaking” to see the aircraft stored in the Mojave Desert and insisted that curfews and expensive airport slots meant flying them will still be profitable.

The last of the business’ 12 A380s flew to a Californian desert boneyard in September and there has been much speculation as to whether the aircraft would fly again. Most notably, in May last year, Air France retired its fleet and Airbus has already began suspending production.

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Today’s comments are the strongest indication yet that Qantas will continue to operate the aircraft when international flying returns in full.

“We have reconfigured six of them with brand new product onboards. In fact, one aircraft just being reconfigured flew directly to the Mojave Desert,” said Joyce.

“It’s there with new seats on it and that nobody’s ever sat on, which is unbelievably disappointing. But we do think if you look at the Qantas’ network, there are going to be opportunities to deploy those aircraft.

“We do have scheduling windows, because if you if you’ve ever been in LA, at between 10 o’clock and midnight, you see six or seven Qantas aircraft departing to Australia, because it’s the only time that works with curfews, so instead of flying multiple frequencies right on top of each other.

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“An A380, that’s fully or nearly fully written down, if it generates cash, will absolutely work. Airports that have slot restrictions, like Heathrow, where a slot is extremely expensive, then the aircraft works for that. And the similar scheduling windows that worked for Australia are unique.

“So we do believe there’s a need for that fleet. And we do believe that it will generate cash. And it’s all going to be about cash when we start up international.

“And eventually, over time, hopefully, we’ll have enough of the 350 aircraft to fly direct and overflow a lot of hubs as well. And that will take the burden of having the big aircraft needed for those big destinations.”

Joyce was referencing the A350-1000s the airline hopes to purchase in order to fly ‘Project Sunrise’ routes between London and New York to Sydney and Melbourne.

He argued in the interview the long-term future of aviation will see more point-to-point travel, with fewer stopovers at transit airports.

The final A380 to depart to the desert was VH-OQI msn 055, which departed Dresden maintenance facility in Germany as flight QF6006 at 10:36am on 25 September 2020. It landed at the Victorville, California, facility 11 hours later.

In June 2020, the Qantas Group announced it would ground 100 aircraft for up to 12 months, including most of its international fleet.

The business said then there was “significant uncertainty” as to when flying levels will support the return of the A380, and revealed it would defer deliveries of A321neo and 787-9.

“As a result, the carrying value of the A380 fleet, spare engines and spare parts will be written down to their fair value,” Qantas said.

The six that are being refurbished are being upgraded with new business class seats and inflight lounges, and are likely to be among the first to come back when the A380 finally returns.

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26 Comments

  • David McKeand

    says:

    I hope the ongoing maintenance of stored a/c is up to scratch and that development of a full recovery programme is underway. Expensive but absolutely essential.

    • Trevor

      says:

      Yes, David, there are QF engineers there, & at LAX, to keep its’ aircraft ‘ticking over’, ready to take to the skies, when needed.
      Contrary to held belief by many, the A380’s will fly again, once demand is there, which may not be for a few years’.

  • Vannus

    says:

    At least the A380’s have lots of ‘plane’ friends’ there at Victorville, in former QF 747’s & 767’s!
    They sure won’t get ‘lonely’!

  • Paul E.

    says:

    Heartbreaking? These aircraft are wonderful pieces of engineering! To fly on them in any class and on either of the decks is an absolute pleasure. As great as the A350 is (if the Finnair product is any indication) the space and comfort of the Superjumbo is unsurpassed!

    • hilaper

      says:

      Paul, they may be comfortable inside but they’re not a wonderful piece of engineering compared to what else is out there. It’s horribly overweight and carries around 100kgs of extra blubber per passenger seat than other long haul jets.

      The heartbreak is the incredible amount of money that has been swallowed up by this dud. The A380 project has lost tens of billions of dollars of EU taxpayers money. Additional billions have been lost by most/all of the airlines that were foolish enough to buy them.

  • Rocket

    says:

    “….and Airbus has already began suspending production.” Begun perhaps????

    “We have reconfigured six of them with brand new product onboards. In fact, one aircraft just being reconfigured flew directly to the Mojave Desert,” said Joyce.

    Note to Joyce, ‘Onboards’ is NOT a word, certainly not an adjective. What is it with this ceaseless repurposing of words that are NOT what they are used for……. add to that (not stated in this article but emanating from QF and other)…. “learnings”, etc.

    • Trent

      says:

      Really?
      Your only contribution to this interesting article is to ‘have a go’ at the QANTAS CEO’s manner of speech?
      You’ve heard him speak, in person?
      If so, you would be aware of his accent, & wordage.
      Your ‘pettiness’ does you no favours’.

    • Bob

      says:

      Give it a rest!
      So he made a couple of grammar errors! Nobody cares!

  • Gordon Mackinlay

    says:

    All I can say is GOOD ON HIM. The 380 will by its sheet size and range be needed when the “Bug” mutates, dies out and the world adapts, and as it re-adapts to life after it, air travel will come back. Irrespective of what the pundits bray, life will have new normalcy!!!!!

  • Adam

    says:

    So Joyce says that’s heartbreaking but had no problems sacking 2000 ground staff.

  • Pete

    says:

    6-7. Try 5 at the absolute most Alan.

  • OVTraveller

    says:

    What is similarly heartbreaking is the fact that most airline CEO have been quick to minimise the future use of the A 380, citing C-19 restrictions, economics and in the case of the US, suitable slots on potential destinations. I am delighted that one farsighted CEO has indicated a genuine future for a superb passenger friendly aircraft. Having flown the B787 on its longest possible route ( Perth/LHR and return), my greatest wish is to resume flights on any metal, but with a preference for long haul journeys on the A 380

    • Brent

      says:

      Couldn’t agree more Ovtraveller!
      The beautiful, big A380’s will return to the QF Fleet in time, when the world has healed from this disastrous Chinese inflicted pandemic.

    • jdh

      says:

      OVTRAVELLER, most airline CEOs made the correct decision not to purchase the A380 in the first place. And out of those that do have them, several were trying to get rid of A380s before Covid.

      • Vannus

        says:

        QANTAS ordered A380 aircraft in 2000. Geoff Dixon was CEO, at that time.
        He, & the QANTAS Board chose it to complement its’ Boeing 744 fleet.
        It was an excellent decision, & it’s not their fault, or the aircraft’s, that a global pandemic came along 20 years’ later.
        When the health of the world permits, QANTAS A380 will be flown again.
        They’re kept in ‘flying’ order by QANTAS Engineers’, at both LAX & Victorville.

  • Ben

    says:

    It’s only heartbreaking because there are no customers that will take them off his hands. We won’t see the 380’s again, not once the econmics of the big twins start to show. Arguably the 787 is the right size aircraft for the current world. The 350 will be the next big thing. If he keeps them he only extends Qantas’ mistake in going four engine and bypassing the 777. I doubt you’d get the load factor in the physically distanced world we are going to be living in for a while yet to make money off a 4 holer.

    • Tyrone

      says:

      Don’t be too swift to ‘wipeout’ QF A380’s coming back into the fleet.
      It may be a few years’, but they will be flown again, by QF.
      The Company’s invested in them, & will utilise them to the nth degree, when applicable.

  • Peter Atherton

    says:

    Why not fitout the idle A380’s for fighting out disastrous bushfires?

    • Tyron

      says:

      Who’s going to pay for that? You?
      Who’s going to pay to have refit to passenger aircraft, down the track?
      QANTAS?
      The Oz taxpayers’?
      You didn’t think that through in the slightest. Fail!

  • Muzz

    says:

    The A380 was a product of the flawed ‘Hub and Spoke’ theory of international travel. In reality, most people would prefer to get on an aircraft close to home, and disembark close to their destination – the so-called ‘Point to Point’ model. The Super Jumbos have a small market in high density trunk routes between slot limited airports, but the ability of the likes of the B787/A350 to fly Point to Point will ensure many, if not most, A380s will not make it back into service.

    • fgjk

      says:

      Muzz, it’s possible that may have been a factor but the real issue is the design.

      The A380 should have had the economies of scale. But they had a flawed marketing pitch of offering 50% more space but only 30% more seats so everyone was more comfortable. Obviously 50% more space should mean 50% more seats. It’s hard to believe that none of the airlines pointed this out to them. To make matters worse, most of that empty space is unusable so people can’t pay extra for it. And the cargo hold space is very limited.

      The other big issue is that it offered very little in terms of new technology. The 787 absolutely blows it out of the water for tech.

  • stuart lawrence

    says:

    the 380s should be used to fly aussies who have been stranded overseas go figure and alan joyce should stop being so pathetic

    • Warwick

      says:

      The Federal Govt still has ‘caps’ on numbers’ of people being repatriated to here, so no use for QF A380 aircraft, but QF Boeing 787 doing it all excellently.
      QANTAS, at the Govt’s request, is operating multiple numbers’ of flights this month & next.
      BTW, Alan Joyce is not what you say, & is doing all that’s permitted of him, & his Company, by the Fed Govt.
      Why don’t you look up the list of repatriation flights QF has/will operated/operate?
      At least you’d then you’d have correct information at hand.

  • DM

    says:

    Ovtraveller – 787’s aren’t metal!

    • Vannus

      says:

      The word ‘metal’ is a much-used, correct word in Aviation, pertaining to aircraft hull.
      So its’ use was said in right context by Ovtravaller.

  • Mark W K Mueller

    says:

    Atleast your still getting millions a year hey Joyce?

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