The cancellation of the Airbus A380 programme comes in a year that could see the first drop in scheduled passenger flights made by the type.
Current Cirium schedules data for the whole of 2019 shows a small year-on-year fall in A380 operations versus 2018. Looking at closer-in schedules data, there was a year-on-year drop in A380 flights in the 12 months to end-April 2019.
The decline reflects waning operator appetite for the aircraft, which contributed to Airbus's decision to end production in 2021.
Given that Airbus states it has just 17 A380s left to deliver before the programme's termination in two years' time, it remains in the balance whether commercial aviation will ever see a rise in flights from the type again. Much will hinge on what has so far proven to be an extremely limited second-hand market as carriers begin to retire older examples.
A growing number of units are set to become available to that market in the coming years. For example, in mid-March Lufthansa became the latest carrier to announce it will be paring down its A380 fleet, revealing that six of its 14 units would be sold back to Airbus in 2022-23.
Nevertheless, the projected fall in total scheduled flights this year comes despite there being more of the type in service; Cirium's Fleets Analyzer shows there were 230 A380s in service on 31 December 2018, versus a projection of 237 on the same date of 2019.
The projected drop in flights this year – one flight is defined as an outbound and return journey – is partly explained by a temporary runway closure at Dubai International airport, where maintenance is planned to run from 16 April to 30 May. Emirates said in mid-January that this closure would see it ground up to 48 aircraft – without specifying how many of these would be A380s – and cut its schedule by 25%.
But Cirium data also shows Emirates' A380 flights are down year on year in January, February and March. The carrier did not respond when asked for comment, only pointing FlightGlobal towards an earlier statement regarding its 2019 network plans. Press reports last year claimed the carrier had parked some A380s.
Emirates' A380 flights will grow again from June onwards, the data shows, but it will end the year having operated 778 fewer flights with the type than it did in 2018, based on current schedules – a drop that exceeds the global total decline. Indeed, the Dubai-based carrier is operating more than half the total A380 flights in 2019, meaning tweaks in its deployment plans can have a significant impact on the global total.
Emirates is not alone, however, in cutting scheduled A380 flights, and the transition to a drop in total flights of the type between 2018 and 2019 is arguably on trend.
After the first commercial A380 flight in 2007, the number of operations rose each year, peaking in 2015 with a rise of 18,111 versus 2014. Growth slowed for the first time in 2016, however, and eventually reached an increase of just 1,943 flights between 2017 and 2018.
Overall, Cirium schedules data shows there will be 118,168 scheduled A380 flights in 2019, down 703 from 118,871 in 2018.
In absolute terms, Malaysia Airlines is second to Emirates when it comes to year-on-year falls in A380 operations, dropping 604 scheduled flights to reach 504 as it continues to transfer its six aircraft to special pilgrimage operations. That charter unit – named Amal – was formally launched in February this year, having begun services in late 2018.
Lufthansa is meanwhile cutting more than one flight a day with a total of 6,341 scheduled for this year – 383 fewer than in 2018. The carrier moved five of its 14 A380s from Frankfurt to Munich in April 2018 and adjusted its schedule as a result.
This transition contributes to a year-on-year drop in flights in January-March 2019, before figures settle down. They drop again, however, in November and December 2019 as Lufthansa takes A380s off its Frankfurt-Houston and Munich-Hong Kong routes, replacing them with Boeing 747s and A350s respectively. Asked to comment on what would happen to its A380 capacity during this period, Lufthansa did not comment.
Qantas's 4,479 flights leave it trailing 2018's figure by 302. The Australian flag carrier made significant adjustments to its A380 network in the first few months of 2018 as its London "kangaroo" route shifted from a stop in Dubai to one in Singapore. Reductions in A380 flights during this period combine with drops later in 2019 on its Sydney-Hong Kong route to explain the decline.
Meanwhile, deployment tweaks from British Airways, Korean Air and Thai Airways International mean they are on course to operate 503 fewer A380 flights between them in 2019.
Offsetting those falls, ANA will begin A380 services in the coming months and is scheduled to account for 558 flights this year as it launches on Hawaii routes, while single-digit percentage upticks in flights will be seen in 2019 from Air France, Asiana, China Southern, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.
In the case of Singapore Airlines, the increase of 456 in A380 flights is explained by continuing deliveries of new A380s during 2018, despite it being the first carrier to retire examples of the type. Cirium fleet data shows the carrier had 16 A380s in service on 31 December 2017, then 19 on the same date in 2018.
At Air France, the increase of 294 flights is partly explained by the temporary loss of one of its 10 A380s towards the end of 2017, which spilled into the first month of 2018 and affected year-on-year comparisons. The A380 suffered an uncontained failure of its starboard outboard engine during a flight to Los Angeles. Cirium fleets data shows it returned to service in January 2018.
The SkyTeam carrier is also boosting A380 flights in 2019 as it shifts the type from African routes to US services.
Air France revealed in February that three of its 10 A380s will leave its fleet as they come to the end of their leases in 2020-21.
One unknown regarding 2019 schedules is whether as-yet-unannounced wet-lease operations from Hi Fly could boost the annual total.
"Our A380 has generated a significant interest in the wet-lease market since we introduced it in the summer," Hi Fly tells FlightGlobal when asked about interest from carriers in 2019. "It had a busy start and it is expected to be a busy season ahead."
Overall, in 2019 Emirates will account for 51% of A380 flights. The remaining 49% are split between 13 operators, led by Singapore Airlines at around 9%, in figures that are broadly flat with those from 2018.
Meanwhile, A380s are due to regularly serve 60 airports this year, down by just one from 2018. That is explained by Emirates no longer serving Kuwait with the type, instead operating 777s on the service. That route was the world's shortest A380 flight, at just 853km.
The shortest A380 route operated in April 2019 will be Asiana's Seoul-Tokyo service, at 1,232km, Cirium schedules data shows.
Meanwhile, figures for April 2019 show North American airports handling just 11% of global A380 flights, reflecting the type's struggles to make a mark in that region. Asia-Pacific airports lead with 31% of flights, with the Middle East close behind at 29%. European airports account for 26%.
By way of comparison, the A380 is not alone among widebody aircraft programmes in seeing a drop in flights this year.
A330 and 777 flights will fall in 2019 for the first time since Cirium schedules records began in 2004, although both have shown significantly more longevity than the A380 in sustaining year-on-year increases.
A350-family flights are meanwhile already well ahead of those from their larger stablemate. The Airbus type and Boeing's 787 are the only two commonplace widebodies projected to see an increase in flights during 2019.
Source: Cirium Dashboard
- Air France
- Asia Pacific
- Asiana Airlines
- British Airways
- China Southern Airlines
- Emirates Airline
- Etihad Airways
- Korean Air
- Latin America
- Malaysia Airlines
- Middle East
- North America
- Ops & safety
- Orders & deliveries
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- Thai Airways International