A second Qantas Airbus A380 has returned to Australia 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.
Twitter user @speedbird020 captured this livefeed of VH-OQD taking off from LAX, on its way home to Australia.
— Alex 🇭🇲 (@speedbird020) January 9, 2022
VH-OQD was later ferried from Abu Dhabi to LAX on 25 July 2020, where she remained until Saturday, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Named Fergus McMaster after one of Qantas’ founders, VH-OQD was one of just two A380s that remained stored at Qantas’ purpose-built A380 hangar at Los Angeles International Airport, alongside VH-OQB, Hudson Fysh, the first QF A380 to be returned to operations.
It comes as VH-OQB prepares to return to service this week, three months ahead of schedule and two years since its last commercial flight, in order to ease the pressure on Qantas aircrew impacted by COVID-19 isolation rules in Queensland.
Qantas announced late last month that it would bring back the superjumbo to replace 787-9 international flights currently affected by Queensland’s isolation rule for aircrew, which requires Qantas’ 70 Queensland-based Dreamliner pilots to undertake 14 days isolation after each international service, reducing their availability to operate.
“We brought one A380 back early knowing it would give us some flexibility over the busy summer holiday period if we needed it,” Qantas said 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.”
VH-OQB Hudson Fysh was the first A380 to return to Australia, touching down in Sydney on 9 November, after being in storage since the early days of the pandemic.
The A380 has since undergone maintenance, and has recently been spotted performing check flights above Sydney, before its planned return to service on Tuesday.
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.
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.
“We’re expecting the aircraft to be available for ground and crew refresher training from mid-December and will have a cabin refurbishment before its return to service.”
Also named after one of Qantas’ founding members, VH-OQB was delivered to the airline on 15 December 2008 and completed her 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 now planned to return to regularly scheduled passenger service on routes connecting Sydney-LA as early as 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, 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.