In a surprise announcement, Lufthansa announced this week the return of the Airbus A380. Its return to a not-yet-post-COVID world is shocking, especially as its longtime rival, the Boeing 747, is being smelted down to make credit cards.
The double-decker superjumbo is one of the largest commercial aircraft in the world, especially since the unfortunate destruction of Ukraine’s Antonov-225. Certainly the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380 is 73 meters long and 24 meters high. Lufthansa’s version can seat 509 passengers.
But Lufthansa had announced the aircraft’s retirement in 2020, as newer twin-engine widebodies like the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 were less costly to operate and easier to fill with passengers. The four-engine A380 is only profitable with a high load factor, and only the world’s largest airports have facilities to handle the aircraft. Such reasons led Lufthansa CEO to declare the craft “permanently decommissioned.”
Just over 250 giant A380 aircraft were built before production ended in 2021. Even before COVID, several airlines had already retired their A380s in favor of smaller aircraft.
When the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent national quarantines and border closures decimated air travel in 2020, nearly every A380 was grounded or put into long term storage. Lufthansa joined Air France, British Airways, Emirates, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines among those parking their planes.
But you can’t keep the big plane down. Lufthansa just announced the unlikely comeback of its Airbus A380 fleet from its mothball status. Lufthansa joins British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Qatar, and Qantas in putting the big beast back to work.
Emirates Airlines, which owns about half of the world’s 240 operable A380 aircraft , has returned more than half of its A380s to service. Emirates cited both passenger demand and shortages of landing slots for its flights.
As Lufthansa acknowledged, aircraft shipping delays and the renewed post-pandemic passenger demand has forced it to bring back the A380. It was apparently a case of “never say never,” as Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr had said its A380 fleet was “permanently decommissioned” during the pandemic.
Now Lufthansa says it is reactivating the Airbus A380 in response to the “steep rise in customer demand and the delayed delivery of ordered aircraft.” Supply chain issues are delaying delivery of new aircraft from both Airbus and Boeing.
Airline Weekly notes that not only has Boeing not delivered a new 787 in a year, but it is also delayed the entry-into-service of its new Boeing 777X five years, until 2025. Lufthansa is waiting for twenty-seven 777-9s, a twin-engine jet that can carry 426 passengers. So, in the short term, with more efficient aircraft in short supply, Lufthansa’s Airbus A380s will pick up the slack.
Lufthansa is currently assessing how many A380s will be reactivated from “deep storage” in Spain and France. The airline says that six of the aircraft have already been sold, while eight A380s remain part of the Lufthansa fleet “for the time being.”
It is not clear how many A380 aircraft Lufthansa will put back into service. Also unclear is what routes the long-haul aircraft will fly. Like Emirates flying around the world from Dubai, Lufthansa previously served destinations like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and New York from its Frankfurt hub.
Although often considered one of the world’s best airlines, Lufthansa has not been immune to the problems plaguing airlines in 2022. Trying to pull off a COVID comeback with a shortage of pilots, personnel, and planes is a challenge for every airline. Lufthansa has reportedly already cancelled more than 3,000 flights for July and August due to staffing issues.
Lufthansa also received some bad publicity when it denied boarding to more than 130 American Orthodox Jews flying from Frankfurt to Budapest in May. Allegations of anti-Semitism were raised, as Lufthansa personnel said they were punishing a large group because a couple of individuals allegedly did not comply with mask regulations.
As for the return of the A380 the company positions it as happy news, rather than as a stopgap measure.
“In the summer of 2023, we not only expect to have a much more reliable air transport system worldwide,” according to a letter to customers from the Executive Board of Deutsche Lufthansa AG. “We will be welcoming you back on board our Airbus A380s, too. We decided today to put the A380, which continues to enjoy great popularity, back into service at Lufthansa in summer 2023.”