Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has said he believes his airline will reactivate its entire fleet of 12 A380s when the pandemic subsides.
He added that if demand returns early, each aircraft could potentially come back into service in as little as “three to six months”.
The last of the business’ 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 begun suspending production.
Speaking to the CAPA Centre for Aviation, Joyce on Wednesday said, “We have luckily enough been replacing the bigger aircraft with the 787 … and the 787 is such a good aircraft. It can replace entire A380s, 747s in terms of range [and] costs are even better than an A380.”
Joyce’s vote of confidence in Airbus’ flagship comes after he said in February that it was “heartbreaking” to see the fleet 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 at the time.
“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.
“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.
The final A380 to depart to the desert was VH-OQI msn 055, which departed the 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.
During the same interview with CAPA on Wednesday, Joyce also revealed the government hasn’t given him a date for when international borders are likely to open, despite the airline selling tickets from 31 October.
“If it happens earlier, we can adapt or if it happens later, and it could happen later, we just adapt and use it,” Joyce said.
“The government have said to us, they can’t give us that date with certainty today because there’s a lot of things it depends on – how effective the vaccine is against stopping transmission, what the rollout looks like, what proportion of the population will have vaccinated, what the success of the other countries is going to look like.”
The news comes amid concerns that delays to Australia’s vaccine program could mean the country doesn’t open up to the rest of the world this year.