In an era of tightened corporate budgets, growing ease into online conferences and people's reluctance to be found in crowds or queues, a dip in globetrotting extravagances on first class for frequent business travellers has meant crunch time for airlines — even as the final A380 leaves Airbus' Toulouse factory in France.
When the first Airbus A380 super jumbo arrived to massive fanfare at Singapore Changi Airport on October 17, 2007, it was hailed as the start of a new era in global aviation.
The water cannon soared over the aircraft as it taxied to the terminal, and within days it was cheered off from Singapore on its first commercial flight, heading for Sydney.
What else could match it for sheer physical presence in the skies? Nothing at the time and nothing since.
Not only was the double decker A380 the largest passenger jet of all time, but with space to spare for 500 or more passengers, airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines raised the bar on luxury in the air with private suites and residences (for First Class passengers), shower facilities, and an onboard bar and lounge.
“Have you flown the A380 yet? Have you had a drink in the bar? It’s amazing,” was soon to be a boast of those fortunate enough to be among the plane’s first passengers.
Fast forward 14 years, and Air France and possibly Lufthansa are calling time on the A380.
Others who operate the aircraft like Etihad, Thai Airways and Qantas have also questioned whether it’s fit for purpose when point-to-point flying with more efficient twin-engine jets becomes a more attractive option than the hub-and-spoke operations favoured by Emirates.
For financially-strained A380 operators like Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways the jury is still out on whether the plane has a post-pandemic future.
Sadly, for the plane’s many admirers, the final A380 to be built has just departed Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, ready for a paint job in Hamburg in the livery of Emirates, cheer leader for the superjumbo even as orders slumped from other airlines.
The Covid pandemic has sent most A380s to parking lots in desert locations around the world to await an uncertain future, yet Emirates still firmly believes its 118 A380s have a job to do.
Last month, Emirates announced it will put A380s back in the air later this year to serve destinations in Australia and New Zealand – Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Christchurch.
Emirates president Sir Tim Clark has consistently called the A380 “a success story for the airline”. He says the aircraft has helped Emirates meet customer demand at slot constrained airports and driven the airline’s long-haul hub operations.
Clark says, “there is absolutely no reason” why Emirates’ network should not be restored to its former glory with the fleet as it is.
“On top of that, I see the opportunities that we have for the expansion of the network that we had planned … and that allows us to reactivate the A380 fleet.”
Singapore Airlines and Japan’s ANA are also giving the A380 another chance.
SIA is retiring some of its A380s but refurbishing those that remain, while ANA’s three A380s which fly in and out of Hawaii loaded with Japanese tourists, are likely to be back on the route once international travel returns to something like normal.
Whenever that might be.
Source: Travel Weekly Asia