MIAMI — Singapore Airlines has withdrawn the first Airbus A380 ever delivered from their fleet. The aircraft, 9V-SKA, was delivered in October of 2007 and is just over 11 years old.
Singapore will return the aircraft to German leasing firm Dr. Peters Group in the coming months. At this time, it is unclear what the future holds for 9V-SKA. While Dr. Peters Group will undoubtedly attempt to find an airline willing to take the aircraft, the scrap yard may be the more likely destination for this frame.
As Airbus continues to struggle to find future A380 operators, the manufacturer has gone back to the drawing board in hopes of securing more orders. In today’s day and age where two-engine widebodies rule long-haul travel, the four-engine A380 simply can’t keep up. While fuel prices have been on the decline in recent years, the cost to operate the four-engine aircraft still remains significantly higher than its two-engine counterparts.
At this year’s Paris Air Show, Airbus unveiled the A380plus, an upgraded and more fuel efficient version of the A380.
The enhancements found on the A380plus include aerodynamic changes such as a 4.7 meter high winglets and other wing refinements. Along with maintenance program optimizations and an expanded cabin, Airbus projects that the A380plus could deliver as much as a 13% seat-mile cost reduction against today’s A380 airframes.
“The A380plus is an efficient way to offer even better economics and improved operational performance at the same time,” said John Leahy, Airbus’ COO, Customers. He added that “It (the A380plus) is a new step for our iconic aircraft to best serve worldwide fast-growing traffic and the evolving needs of the A380 customers. The A380 is well-proven as the solution to increasing congestion at large airports, and in offering a unique, passenger-preferred experience.”
The new winglets consist of a 3.5-meter uplet, and a 1.2-meter downlet . According to Airbus, these would yield a 4% savings in fuel burn which enable 80 extra passengers or 300 extra nautical miles (nm) of range.
One major negative to the A380plus is that existing A380 aircraft cannot be retrofitted to become A380plus’. All A380plus’ will need to be newly built aircraft.
Singapore Airlines becomes the first airline to retire an Airbus A380 from service. In the coming years, several other airlines such as Malaysia Airlines and Emirates will look to offload A380s.
As these relatively young frames enter the secondhand market, the A380 will face one of its biggest challenges to date. With little to no interest from airlines in purchasing new A380s, what will the demand be for secondhand frames? Will a low-cost carrier finally give the A380 a chance when offered aircraft at paying pennies on the dollar? Or will airlines and leasing firms like Emirates and Dr. Peters scrap these historic aircraft?
The next several years will very interesting for the A380, particularly with Emirates. Historically, Emirates has retired aircraft at a very young age. For example, earlier this year, Emirates retired a Boeing 777 that was less than 12 years old. By comparison, Delta Air Lines and British Airways are both currently flying Boeing 767s that are 27 and 28 years old respectively. These airlines, and many more around the world, routinely run airplanes until they near their cycle limits.
As Emirates A380s continue to age (the oldest one is currently just over 12 years old) and Dubai International Airport increasingly faces capacity restraints, Emirates will be forced to find homes for its older A380s. Until the day comes when A380s sit idle in the deserts of the American West or the Middle East, we will continue to ponder what the future holds for the mighty whale-jet.