Is there a future for the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380?

The consequences of the COVID-19 crisis are far-reaching. Of course, health and safety goes first. But it is inevitable that many companies, also in the aviation industry, have to face big challenges in the period to come. Some may not survive due to a lack of income. This implies cost reductions on short term. Already some airlines are taking the decision to phase out older aircraft like the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380. Is there a future for these aircraft?

Boeing 747

In the seventies the airspace was becoming more crowded. In order to free up some space aircraft engineers thought that bigger aircraft were needed. One of the newly developed jets was the Boeing 747. This type of aircraft has been around for decades now. Several types of 747 were developed, but the Boeing 747-400 has proved to be one of the most popular. Even now, with all the travel restrictions, the aircraft is still being used. Both for passenger and cargo flights.

Boeing 747 in British Airways livery (Photo by Josh Hallett from Winter Haven, FL, USA_
Boeing 747 in British Airways livery (Photo by Josh Hallett from Winter Haven, FL, USA_

Several airlines were already phasing out their 747s as planned. However, some airlines have recently decided to speed up the process due to the COVID-19 crisis. The most important two reasons are the large capacity of the aircraft and the operational cost. Not only now but also in more general terms, the aviation industry asks for smaller and more efficient aircraft. The Boeing 747 can accommodate a big amount of passengers, but many (profitable) routes do not have that much demand. Next to that, the 747 consumes a lot of fuel and has high maintenance cost. New aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 are much more (fuel) efficient.

Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner in Etihad Airways livery (Source: Etihad Airways)
Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner in Etihad Airways livery (Source: Etihad Airways)

Farewell

Some airlines have already phased out their 747s or are doing so now. For instance, the Dutch airline KLM. Originally, KLM planned to phase out the 747s next year. But due to the current circumstances the airline decided to make the final 747 passenger flight already a few weeks ago. KLM confirmed to InsideFlyer that it does not have the intention to use the passenger 747s in the future. Which actually implies the end of the Boeing 747 for the Dutch national airline.

KLM is not the only airline to say farewell to the Boeing 747. Lufthansa also decided to phase out some aircraft earlier than planned, among others the Boeing 747. The French carrier Corsair also announced to stop earlier than planned with the 747. Most probably more will follow.

Airbus A380

The Airbus A380 is definitely younger than the Boeing 747. But many airlines face the lack of efficiency and high costs for this type of aircraft. This was for example the reason for Air France to decide to stop with the A380 in the near future. Currently, all French A380s have been grounded due to the travel restrictions. Possibly, some of them will also be phased out even earlier than planned. Lufthansa also decided to stop with several large aircraft. Among which the A340 and the A380.

Airbus A380 (D-AIMB) in Lufthansa livery, parked at Frankfurt Airport (Source: Lufthansa Group)
Airbus A380 (D-AIMB) in Lufthansa livery, parked at Frankfurt Airport (Source: Lufthansa Group)

There are many other airlines that keep their A380s on the ground. Why fly an A380 with many empty seats if you can fly a full Boeing 777? It is only a matter of time before others will decide to send away (some of) their A380s, since the current crisis will not be over any time soon.

End of an era?

Is it really the end for the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380? Or is there still a future for both types of aircraft? Especially, the 747 is still popular for cargo flights. And the passenger version can be ‘easily’ refitted as a cargo aircraft. For the Airbus A380 that’s a little bit harder. But nothing is impossible. Time will tell whether the 747 and A380 aircraft will fly around in the near future. But it could well be the case that it’s not.

Comments

  1. Michael Hassall says

    Well, pandemic aside, the 747 is from an era when everybody flew to a handful of “gateway” cities and then boarded a 747 to hop the pond. Now, if you want to go to LHR from PHL or RDU or TPA, you jump on a non-stop (maybe even a narrow-body) and avoid the hassle of the big terminals and the risk of baggage transfer.

    The A380 is a magnificent aircraft (flown it on Emirates and Lufthansa) but it was way late to the party (see previous paragraph). Other than moving a bazilliion people to something like the Haj, it is tough to justify the initial or ongoing expense of having it.

  2. Thomas Holser says

    Excellent article about the 747 and A380. However along with cargo, the 747 could become an important passanger aircraft if the coronavirus and recommended social distancing continues to be critical this year and into the future.

  3. Tim says

    >Especially, the 747 is still popular for cargo flights. And the passenger version can be ‘easily’ refitted as a cargo aircraft. For the Airbus A380 that’s a little bit harder. But nothing is impossible.

    https://www.flexport.com/blog/airbus-a380-no-cargo-equivalent/

    Problem is given the dimensions and already heavy weight, the A380 can’t get close to filling up the volume of a cargo-fitted model before it hits it’s max flying weight.

    It’s an incredibly involved engineering feat to overcome, not just “a little bit harder”

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