Qantas is likely to fly its Airbus A380s again, according to the Australian carrier’s chief executive Alan Joyce, particularly on routes where tight scheduling is a factor.

Speaking during a Eurocontrol event today, Joyce explained that while all 12 of the airline’s A380s “are sitting in the Mojave desert” – a reference to their storage at Victorville airport in California – and will remain grounded for at least three years, “we do think, if you look at the Qantas network, there are going to be opportunities to deploy those aircraft”.

The carrier grounded all of its A380s by June last year as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic became apparent, leading to suggestions that it might follow carriers such as Air France in permanently removing the type from its future fleet plans.

Joyce states, however, that Qantas will continue to have “scheduling windows” that are likely to make A380 operations viable when international services return. 

“If you’ve ever been in LA between 10pm and midnight, you see six or seven Qantas aircraft departing for Australia, because it’s the only time that works with curfews,” he says.

“So, instead of flying multiple frequencies right on top of each other, an A380 that’s fully or nearly fully written down, if it generates cash, will absolutely work.”

He also cites the potential for A380s to return at “airports that have slot restrictions like Heathrow”.

On the cash-generation point, Joyce explains that the A380s have been “written down… a couple of times” – most recently last year as Covid-19 prompted to the Australian government to introduce strict controls on international travel – reducing their burden on Qantas’ balance sheet.

He adds: “So we do believe that there’s a need for that fleet and we do believe that it’s going to generate cash, and it’s all going to be about cash when we start up international”.

Joyce further recalls that six of the aircraft have been reconfigured in recent years, with one example even flying “directly to the Mojave Desert” following a refit in Dresden.


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Qatas’ A380s are stored at Victorville, California

“It’s there with new seats on it that nobody has ever sat on, which is unbelievably disappointing,” he laments.

Further into the future, Qantas’ plan for direct ultra-long-haul flights to destinations in Europe, North America and elsewhere means that, eventually, “we’ll have enough of the [Airbus A350-1000] aircraft to fly direct and overfly a lot of the hubs as well”, which would “take the burden of having the big aircraft needed for those big destinations” and mean A380s could be phased out.

Qantas expects to make a decision on the launch and initial aircraft orders for those ultra-long-haul destinations later this year under its Project Sunrise programme, with first flights likely pushed back a year to 2024 because of the pandemic.