Back in 2006, QANTAS was one of the first airlines to place an order for the Airbus A380 Super Jumbo. 20 of the type were ordered which certainly lifted the QANTAS image as an industry leader. On 21 September 2008, the first A380, registration VH-OQA named for the much loved and respected aviatrix Nancy-Bird Walton landed in Sydney. Over the next 3 and a half years Airbus delivered 11 more airframes with the last of the 12 arriving in December 2011. VH-, named Phyllis Arnott after the first woman in Australia to take a commercial pilots licence, is now officially the one that concluded the order.
For the last 8 years, QANTAS has had 8 A380s outstanding in their order book with Airbus. Sources at QANTAS indicate that those remaining 8 aircraft have not featured in its future network plans for some time. This week it was announced that the remaining 8 would no longer be required and in discussions with Airbus formally cancelled that remaining order. This is no doubt bad news for Airbus as this cancellation is a significant contributor to the $US4 billion in lost contracts. Airbus is putting a brave face on it, one source quoted as saying, “one month does not make a year”. Let’s hope they’re right.
When we look at the order book for the A380 as at the end of January 2019, we see there are 313 orders with 234 airframes delivered of which 232 are currently in active service. The QANTAS order for 20 aircraft was the third largest behind Singapore Airlines and Emirates. The Emirates order itself is what is keeping the A380 factories open. Of the 162 ordered by the giant airline, 109 have been delivered. We also note that Virgin Atlantic who had 6 on order have now dropped off the order list.
Whilst Airbus might see the Emirates order as being a lifeline for the A380. There is talk that Emirates may also be rethinking their strategy and perhaps looking at the A350 as a viable alternative. As we wrote back in 2015 about the 747-8, is the day of the 4 engined Jumbo sized aircraft at an end? We can only speculate, and of course, Airbus is remaining tight-lipped, about whether we will soon see a closure of the Airbus A380 production line?
QANTAS say they are committed to the A380s in their fleet and around mid-year this year, they will embark on a revamping and upgrade of the interiors of their A380 fleet. So there certainly is committment to the type in the future.
Described as the last frontier of aviation by CEO of QANTAS, Alan Joyce, is the non-stop flight to anywhere in the world. The advent of the giant twin-engined airliners is bringing this dream into reality. QANTAS recently took delivery of its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners which have been deployed on the Perth to London non-stop flight route. This will become available for East Coast Australian cities soon as well. Mr Joyce indicated that the aircraft are stripped back and are targeted at the higher end business market. Cargo may even be sacrificed in favour of sleeping berths for the extremely long flights.
Perhaps we are at that tipping point where those longer flights are becoming economically feasible. If we go back a few years, the Airbus A340 was given as a solution to those ultra long flights that other airliners could not compete with. Singapore Airlines pioneered some of those long routes, but eventually the economics didn’t stack up. The long-range A340 became known as a flying tanker with a few passengers allowed along for the ride.
QANTAS also introduced an extremely long route from Sydney to Dallas, Texas using their Boeing 747 400ER. It was quite a stretch, and on several occasions on the Dallas to Sydney leg which is against the jet stream, the aircraft had to stop over in Noumea due to low fuel. This route is now operated by the Airbus A380.
Orignally Mr Joyce of QANTAS was adamant that the Project Sunrise aircraft would carry in excess of 300 passengers. This has been revised back now, and may well follow the lead of Singpoare Airlines on their Singapore to New York route using an Airbus 900ULR (Ultra Long Range). This non-stop flight of 18 hours is available to 67 Business Class travellers along with 94 Premium Economy Class travellers. Certainly a high end portion of the market. For high flying business travellers, this is the quickest way to get there, so may be money well spent.
Perhaps we’re not all as keen as those business travellers to shave a few hours off our trip and pay those premium prices. But there are new aircraft being developed and improved all the time. The likely candidates are the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350 1000. We mustn’t quite forget about supersonic travel either. Concorde may not a have flown for a decade and , but that doesn’t mean the concept is dead.