Airbus' ageing A380 gets glimmer of new life

Gas-guzzling giant out of favour for plane maker but there may be light at the end of the tunnel

FILE - In this June 18 2015 file photo, vapour forms across the wings of an Airbus A380 as it performs a demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show, Le Bourget airport, north of Paris. A World Trade Organization panel ruled Tuesday, May 15, 2018 that the European Union continues to provide illegal subsidies to plane-maker Airbus, the latest in a string of tussles between the European manufacturer and U.S. rival Boeing. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)
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The world’s largest passenger jet is finally getting a second life.

On August 1 a 10-year-old, Airbus A380 formerly flown by Singapore Airlines will enter service with a new carrier, said Paulo Mirpuri, chief executive  of aircraft lessor Hi Fly. He said he has two candidates interested in flying the refurbished, 471-seat, jumbo jet: a large European airline seeking its first A380 for flights across the North Atlantic, and an East Asian carrier that already has a fleet of the double-decker.

“We believe there is quite strong potential for the A380,” Mr Mirpuri said. “It is a good aircraft for high-density airports where slots are restricted and cannot easily be added. Our clients want an aircraft that’s able to fly more passengers.” A decision is due next week on which of the customers, whom he declined to name, will receive the plane.

Hi Fly’s leasing deal would extend the usefulness of a plane that has been popular with travellers but has become an embarrassment for Airbus since it was introduced 10 years ago. As the plane maker and rival Boeing introduced twin-engine wide-bodies, interest in the the fuel-thirsty, four-engine A380 has stalled and airlines are eager to upgrade. While jetliners usually fly for more than 25 years, often in the second-hand market, A380 buyers risk holding ageing jets that no one wants. That makes it hard to get the most from a plane that lists today for almost $450 million.


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The A380 suffered an indignity last month when German investment fund Dr Peters said it will would send two planes to the scrapyard after just a decade in service, failing after a year to find new operators. The jets are parked in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, where they will be filleted and sold for parts. Like the Hi Fly plane, they are from a batch of five leased to Singapore Air that the carrier is replacing.

Hi Fly will lease its A380, the only one it has, and provide it with crews and insurance to airlines that have short-term needs. That can be from a month, to be used when other planes are out for maintenance, to two years, while a carrier waits for the delivery of factory-fresh aircraft. The Portugal-based lessor will need to find several clients over the next six years to get the most out of its plane.

Hi Fly wants to add more A380s to its line-up of 20 twin-aisle jets, Mr Mirpuri said. It plans to also offer a high-density layout with about 800 economy seats plus a small business class, providing almost double the capacity of some older Boeing 747-400s in a newer plane with an equivalent operating cost.

“We do believe in the second life of the A380. If you expect 25 years of operation, this aircraft has passed just over one-third of its commercial life,” he said. Costs for airlines leasing older A380s will be reasonable, “while still allowing for a decent margin for Hi Fly”.