MIAMI – Paris-based carrier Air France is to reduce the number of Airbus A380s in its fleet. Reportedly, the carrier is planning to return five of the 10 double-deckers to its lessors by the end of 2019, following an audit led by the airline’s new CEO, Benjamin Smith.

The results of the audit revealed that the plane has become too expensive to run, especially when compared to the Boeing 777-300(ER)s that the airline deploys on similar missions.

The A380s in the French carrier’s fleet currently operate from Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Abidjan, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Mexico, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Washington. The airline expects to deploy the aircraft to Atlanta starting March 2019.

Cabin Discrepancies Are A Factor

CEO Benjamin Smith sees the 777-300(ER) as “the backbone of its long-haul routes.”

The Boeing twin-engine is more popular with travelers than the A380, especially in the Business Class cabin, as it features full-flat, all-aisle access for every passenger, as compared to the obsolete 2-2-2, recline seats layout on the A380.

Air France – Airbus A380 – Business Class. (Credits: Author)

The superjumbos are the only long-haul planes to not have any new cabin refits. Both the 777-300(ER)s and the brand-new 787s have had a remarkable update, and even the older 15 Airbus A330s will be getting one, starting in January 2019.

Last month, the airline unveiled how the Airbus A330-200’s cabins will look like once it starts re-fitting the 12-year-old planes with brand-new economy and premium economy seats, galleys, and carpets.

Air France – Boeing 787-9 Business Class

Air France is also expected to roll out a brand-new Business Class seat for the A330s in January, which until today, were also expected to be installed on the A380 fleet.

The carrier will invest about $170 million into the refurbishment of the 15 A330s.

Currently, all ten A380s feature the old hard product that was introduced in 2010. Air France believes that these “no longer meet the current standards of a long-haul business class,” and incurring into the expense of refurbishing an unprofitable airliner might be out of the question for Benjamin Smith and company.

Air France – A380 – Lower deck economy class. (Credits: Author)

Reportedly, Air France will push to have the remaining five A380s re-fitted with new interiors by 2020. The estimated cost of the gargantuan project is $51 million per aircraft. 

These refurbs were supposed to take place between 2014 and 2017 under former CEO Alexandre de Juniac, who resigned over pay disputes

A380 Expenses Up The Roof

Air France currently faces increased costs on the operation of the Airbus A380, as it consumes substantially more fuel than what the 777-300(ER) burns per flight.

Moreover, the audit might have revealed that to fly two A380s, it requires a roster of at least 40 pilots, most of which are very high in seniority and, therefore, are paid higher salaries and benefits. 

Notably, Air France’s pay scale not only varies in distance flown, hours worked, and total shift time; it also varies on the aircraft’s total weight. Flying a Triple Seven, weighing approximately 300 tons, would cost considerably less money than flying a 500 ton double decker Airbus.

Airways got in touch with Air France for a comment. The airline replied that “discussions and studies concerning the size of Air France’s A380 fleet are ongoing.” 

The A380 Program Continues To Suffer

The five planes that will go back to its lessors represent another big blow to the A380 program. 

The carrier received its first superjumbo back in October 2009 (F-HPJA) and received its final one (F-HPJJ) back in June 2014. The following five planes are expected to be returned to its owner:

  • F-HPJB – Delivered February 2010.
  • F-HPJD – Delivered August 2010.
  • F-HPJE – Delivered May 2011.
  • F-HPJG – Delivered June 2012.
  • F-HPJJ – Delivered June 2014

The other five aircraft, F-HPJA, HPJC, HPJF, HPJH and HPJI will be the ones being retained under full ownership. 

With the A380s in the Air France fleet only having an average age of 7.9 years, the five going back to its lessor will have a hard time finding new homes.

The second-hand A380 market is struggling due to the high cost of operations for airlines and the aircraft.

Hi Fly’s Airbus A380 departing Palma de Mallorca on behalf of Thomas Cook.

So far, only HiFly Airline has managed to take over an ex-Singapore Airlines A380 that was also returned to the lessor earlier this year.

Although the 777-300(ER)s are considerably older than the A380, at 10.2 years of age, the plane is cheaper to run, it can operate into more airports, it requires less pilots, and it shares the same type rating as the Boeing 787—another plane in Air France’s fleet that’s gaining rapid momentum.

And with the imminent entry into service of the Boeing 777X, the viability of the A380 program will succumb into unseen rates of efficiency, provided by two of the most fuel-efficient engines seen to date.

Emirates, the world’s largest A380 operator, has had numerous issues with engine contracts, as the plane has not delivered the fuel savings that it advertised.

Only time will tell whether Air France will keep the other five A380s past the 2020 year mark, especially now that the airline is being led by a cost-saving CEO with a mission to bring the airline back to profit and labor stability.

Written by Enrique Perrella & James Field