British Airways Still Sees Place For Airbus A380 In Network
British Airways (BA) plans to keep the Airbus A380 in its fleet and still sees an important role for the type in its network as the airline emerges from the COVID-19 crisis.
“The A380 works very well for BA,” the company’s chairman and CEO Sean Doyle said at the CAPA Live summit April 14. “We do have a place for it.”
Doyle stressed that the A380 can serve “multiple purposes” in the BA network, not only on high-volume routes to Hong Kong or Johannesburg, but also to destinations on the U.S. East Coast like Boston, Miami and Washington.
BA has a fleet of 12 A380s. According to Aviation Week Intelligence Network Fleet and Data Services, two of the aircraft are parked while 10 are in longer term storage. BA’s A380s are between five and eight years old. Doyle did not go into details about when the aircraft may return to active flying.
The BA position mirrors that of Qantas, with that airline’s CEO Alan Joyce telling the CAPA Live summit on the same day that all of its A380s are also firmly planned to return at some point. These contrast with the thinking of Lufthansa and Air France, both of which have decided to retire their A380 fleets. Separately, China Southern SVP international and corporate relations Wu Guoxiang said at the event that the airline is reviewing the future of its five A380s. In the Middle East, only Emirates has committed to returning its large A380 fleet to service, possibly as soon as 2022.
As for BA, Doyle sees an “immediate opportunity to open up the U.S.” as vaccinations in both countries progress at a fast pace. “The U.S. and the UK could lead the way,” he said. He pointed out that transatlantic travel recovery will not only be driven by leisure demand, but also by trade as the U.S. is the UK’s largest trade partner besides the European Union. “There is fatigue with zoom calls,” Doyle said. “And if you want to buy the farm you have to walk the farm,” he said, citing a saying from his home country Ireland.
Doyle believes China could become another area of significant long-haul growth for BA as the country’s economy matures. But he cautioned that “competitive visa regulation” was a prerequisite.
Near term, BA is still battling with travel restrictions, but is hoping that the opening policy announced by the British government will boost demand. “The UK framework could be simpler and cheaper,” he said. He also demanded that people who are vaccinated should be able to travel with “fewer restrictions.” While the UK is ahead of EU countries in terms of its vaccination rate, Doyle believes that “Europe will be in a very different place by the end of the second quarter.”