And we’re off!
The first Qantas Airbus A380 has officially returned to passenger service after a nearly two-year hiatus, with VH-OQB taking to the skies as QF11 from Sydney – LAX.
VH-OQB took off from Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport right on schedule, at 9:44pm on Tuesday, en-route to Los Angeles,
The aircraft then touched down at LAX just under 14 hours later, at 4:39pm local time. OQB is scheduled to complete the return leg of the journey LAX-Sydney as QF12 at 8:15pm (LA time) on Tuesday evening.
It marks not only the first passenger service onboard Qantas’ flagship Airbus A380 aircraft since the early days of the pandemic, but also OQB’s first passenger flight in 659 days.
The last time VH-OQB carried passengers was on 23 March 2020.
A Qantas Airbus A380, VH-OQB, has spent the last few days performing brief jaunts above the skies of Sydney, ahead of its planned return to commercial passenger service on Tuesday night.
It comes after Qantas announced it would dramatically fast-track the return of its first superjumbo to passenger service from April to January, in order to ease staffing pressures due to COVID-19 isolation orders.
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VH-OQB – formally named Hudson Fysh after one of the Qantas founders – returned to Australia from overseas in November, after being stored at Qantas’ purpose-built A380 hangar at LAX since the early days of the pandemic.
Since returning home, Hudson Fysh has undergone extensive maintenance checks, which included the replacement of all 22 wheels and 16 brakes, as well as all of the emergency equipment on board.
Then, since early January, OQB has been regularly performing short flights over Sydney, as both the aircraft and its crew are brought back online.
On Monday alone, one day before the A380 takes off as QF11, VH-OQB performed six check flights, each being around 45 minutes in duration.
In the last seven days, the four-engine jet has completed 28 flights.
“After being maintained in storage for almost two years, this first A380 returned to Australia in early November and has since undergone extensive operational maintenance checks,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
“In addition to many hours spent in the airline’s simulators, crew have completed a number of refresher training flights before the aircraft enters service.”
VH-OQB was initially scheduled to see a cabin refurbishment prior to its return to passenger service, however crew scheduling chaos in light of the current Omicron COVID-19 outbreak, partnered with Queensland’s harsh quarantine rules, meant that OQB’s return had to be expedited, with no time to spruce up the interior.
Meanwhile, a second Qantas A380, VH-OQD touched down in Sydney on Monday, after spending 674 days in storage at LAX, ahead of a planned return to service.
VH-OQD took off from LAX just before 9pm local time on Saturday, 8 January, taking to the skies for a total of 14 hours and 18 minutes, en route to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport, where it landed at 6:11am on Monday, 10 January.
It marks the first time that OQD has touched down on Australian soil since it performed its last passenger flight to London and was ferried from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi for maintenance on 7 March 2020.
Notably, OQD has already received its interior refurbishment, with updated business class suites and increased capacity for premium economy passengers.
This all comes after Australian Aviation predicted back in August that VH-OQB could well be the first A380 to return to service, despite not yet seeing a cabin update, 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.
At that time, VH-OQB had just been ferried from LAX to a facility in Dresden in order to undergo a scheduled landing gear update ahead of a planned refurbishment. Hudson Fysh has remained in storage at Dresden Airport since.
“After arriving, OQB will enter Hangar 96 where it will spend the next few weeks undergoing additional checks and maintenance by our Sydney engineers,” Qantas said in a staff memo in early November, finally confirming our suspicions.
Qantas revealed in October 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 to as early as April 2022 for Sydney-LA routes.
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, after Airbus finally delivered its last-ever A380 to Emirates.
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.
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