The first of Qantas’ A380s is set to return to service on 11 January 2022 – three months ahead of schedule and two years since its last commercial flight.
The airline said it would bring back the superjumbo, VH-OQB, to replace 787-9 international flights currently affected by Queensland’s 14-day isolation rule for aircrew.
It completes an unlikely return to the skies for the aircraft that many assumed would be phased out by the flag carrier due to COVID.
Qantas said it brought back the A380 early because 70 of its 787 pilots are Queensland-based and are required to undertake 14 days isolation after each international service, reducing their availability to operate.
This is not the case for other states, meaning the business will use the A380’s larger capacity to change its schedule:
- From 10 January, Sydney-Los Angeles reduced from a daily 787 service, to three weekly A380 services and one weekly 787 service. The first A380 flight will commence on January 11.
- Melbourne-London reduced from daily 787 service to up to four weekly services.
- Melbourne-Los Angeles reduced from four weekly 787 services to three.
The Queensland Government is set to relax restrictions on international travel when 90 per cent of the state is double vaccinated, but that’s not currently estimated to occur until late January.
“We brought one A380 back early knowing it would give us some flexibility over the busy summer holiday period if we needed it,” said Qantas in a statement. “Having the aircraft and the crew ready to go means we’re able to plug some of the gap created by having so many 787 pilots stuck with quarantine rules.”
In addition to hours spent in the airline’s simulators, crew will shortly undertake refresher training onboard before entering service in the New Year. Additional A380s will then progressively return to Australia in early 2022 for maintenance checks and training before being returned to service.
VH-OQB, named “Hudson Fysh”, was first ferried to LAX on 26 March 2020 for storage, while many of its 12-aircraft fleet were grounded in the Mojave Desert.
It returned in November and has since undergone extensive operational maintenance checks.
Australian Aviation predicted back in August that VH-OQB could well be the first A380 to return to service, due to the fact that it was one of just two of Qantas’ superjumbos that were grounded at a purpose-built A380 hangar at LAX, rather than stored at the Victorville “boneyard” in the California desert.
Named after one of Qantas’ founding members, VH-OQB was delivered to the airline on 15 December 2008 and completed its first passenger service from Sydney to LA as QF11 on 22 December 2008.
Qantas recently revealed that at least one of its A380s would return to home soil before the end of the year, in order to get the aircraft and its staff prepared and retrained ahead of its return to service. The announcement came after Qantas fast-tracked the superjumbos’ return to service not once, but twice.
The Flying Kangaroo had initially intended to keep its 12 A380s mothballed in the California desert until late 2023, in light of Australia’s fast-paced vaccination rollout. The airline later announced it would bring five of the 12 back by mid-2022.
This timeline was later again pushed up, with Hudson Fysh planning to return to regularly scheduled passenger service on routes connecting Sydney-LA in April 2022.
Qantas said this second fast-track decision was made in light of the fact that demand for international travel, particularly on its Sydney-LA and Sydney-London routes, had exceeded expectations.
While the return of VH-OQB is very welcome, it’s also bittersweet. Qantas is set to soon retire two of its A380s early, despite earlier predictions stating all 12 will come back into service.
It marks the beginning of the end of Qantas’ iconic A380 fleet, following the decided end of the Airbus A380 program.
In light of the news, Australian Aviation looked back on the history of the airline’s A380 fleet, and gave readers the chance to guess which superjumbos are destined to be grounded for life.
More than half of all votes cast in the poll across all 12 aircraft went to VH-OQA, with readers believing Nancy-Bird Walton could enjoy an early retirement, perhaps at the HARS Aviation Museum, or Qantas Founders Museum.
Other top contenders for early retirement included VH-OQH and VH-OQF.