A Singapore Airlines A380 left the Alice Springs ‘boneyard’ on Monday morning to be fitted with a new cabin allowing it to eventually return to service, Australian Aviation can reveal.
The Airbus A380-841, 9V-SKQ msn 079, departed Alice Springs at 10:03am as flight SQ8896 and landed in Sydney at 3:07pm, where it will undergo checks following it being ‘thawed out’ from its spell in the desert.
The carrier, the launch customer for the double-decker, is set to retire seven of its A380 but crucially keep 12 in service.
It comes despite speculation the aircraft is nearing the end of its time in the skies, globally. Most notably, in May last year, Air France retired its entire fleet, while Airbus has already began suspending production.
“Singapore Airlines can confirm that one of our Airbus A380 aircraft that was stored in Alice Springs has begun its planned return to Singapore ahead of a schedule retro-fitting and maintenance program,” said the business in a statement to Australian Aviation.
“The aircraft, registration 9V-SKQ, has been moved to Sydney to undergo routine checks following its storage, before returning to Singapore where it will be retro-fitted as part of our plan to have all 12 remaining A380 in our fleet fitted with the latest A380 cabin product.”
The vote of confidence comes after Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said earlier this month 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.
“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’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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Australian Aviation reported in September 2020 how the Alice Springs boneyard was reaching its new expanded capacity of 100 aircraft after the Northern Territory government invested $3.5 million into the site in July.
Australian Aviation previously reported how the NT government made the investment, which included building new roads to ensure the facility’s capacity could be quickly doubled, to help create 55 local jobs.
Tom Vincent, who owns the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) maintenance facility, previously told the ABC that parking spaces were “definitely in demand”.
“As soon as extra spots for storage come online, there are aircraft filling those spots,” Vincent said.
In July 2020, the facility was storing 44 aircraft and had already received a $1 million infrastructure grant.
This investment package doubled its workforce and is predicted to inject more than $10 million dollars, directly and indirectly, into the state’s economy. Before the pandemic, APAS was home to just 18 aircraft at any one time.
Like many so-called boneyards, APAS is chosen by airlines because its low precipitation and hot weather reduce rust, while staff are on-hand to carry out the 100-plus maintenance tasks per year required to keep aircraft operational.