Qantas Order Cancellation Strikes Latest Blow to A380

 - February 7, 2019, 9:13 AM
Qantas's decision to cancel deliveries of eight A380s ordered in 2006 will leave it with 12 of the superjumbos for the foreseeable future. (Photo: Qantas)

Qantas on Thursday said it has canceled a firm order with Airbus for eight A380s, dealing the latest blow to the superjumbo’s survival prospects. The confirmation comes only a week after Airbus said that it had entered talks of an unspecified nature with Emirates Airline regarding the carrier’s future A380 deliveries. The order cancellation by Qantas lowers Airbus’s order backlog for the big quadjet to 79.

“Following discussions with Airbus, Qantas has now formalized its decision not to take eight additional A380s that were ordered in 2006,” said Qantas in a statement to AIN. “These aircraft have not been part of the airline’s fleet and network plans for some time. Qantas remains committed to a major upgrade of its existing A380s, which begins in mid-calendar 2019 and will see us operate the aircraft well into the future.”

Qantas continues to fly 12 A380s, plans for which call for the start of an interior overhaul in March.

Given the recent order cancellations by Qantas and Virgin Atlantic, the future of the A380 might well hinge on Emirates, whose fleet of 110 of the airplanes—most powered by Engine Alliance GP7000 turbofans—accounts for almost half of all the superjumbos in operation. The Dubai-based carrier now holds outstanding delivery positions on firm orders for another 52 airplanes, most to carry Rolls-Royce Trent 900s. Its most recent contract involving A380s, signed in February 2018, included a firm order for 20 Rolls-Royce-powered airplanes and options on another 16.

However, Airbus and Emirates have begun talks about the possibility of converting some or all of the 20 on firm order to positions on A350s and/or A330neos, again raising the specter of a premature closure of the A380 production line. After delivering 15 of the airplanes in 2017, Airbus cut the A380’s production rate to 12 last year. It planned to lower the rate to eight this year, then stabilize to six a year starting in 2020. Emirates itself took delivery of half of Airbus’s output last year and planned to accept another six this year. 

During a January 2018 briefing to discuss the previous year’s orders and deliveries, former Airbus Commercial Aircraft COO for customers John Leahy warned that a lack of orders threatened to close the A380 line in the near future. He noted that Airbus had engaged in talks with “a few key airlines” to support an aim to eventually return to producing 25 A380s a year, but he also characterized Emirates as “probably the only one in the market that has the capacity to take six to eight aircraft [a year] over several years.”

Since then Airbus has failed to sign an order for a single A380 apart from the deal with Emirates, which over the past year has negotiated unsuccessfully with engine maker Rolls-Royce for price concessions and performance improvements.