Sad: Air France Quietly Retires First A380

Filed Under: Air France

It’s another sad milestone for the Airbus A380, which hardly comes as a surprise, though…

Air France Retires First A380

Yesterday morning Air France quietly retired their very first Airbus A380, as they flew the plane from Paris to Malta, just shortly after it landed from Johannesburg. This plane had the registration code F-HPJB.

This makes Air France only the second airline in the world to retire the A380, after Singapore Airlines. So far a Singapore Airlines A380 has been scrapped, while another was taken over by Portuguese leasing company Hi-Fly (though seemingly not with much success).

The first Air France A380 to be retired was leased from Dr. Peters Group (the same company that leased Singapore Airlines their A380s), so the plane will now be stripped of the Air France livery, and then we’ll see what happens to it after that.

Air France’s A380 Retirement Plans

Unfortunately A380 production is ending in 2021, as over time we’ve learned that Emirates is the only airline delighted with the plane (and they claim other airlines just don’t use the plane correctly).

Over the summer Air France made the decision to retire all of their Airbus A380s by 2022. The airline has 10 of these planes in their fleet. This will make Air France the first airline in the world to retire their entire fleet of A380s.

Previously the airline had planned on phasing out some of their A380s in the next few years, but also keeping some after a refresh. They ultimately decided against this plan.

The airline will be replacing their A380s with A350s.

Why Did Air France Decide To Retire A380s?

What ultimately caused Air France to retire their A380s? Air France management explained that the current competitive environment limits the markets where A380s can be profitably flown, especially when you have smaller and more fuel efficient planes.

Beyond that, though:

  • Air France’s A380s have woefully outdated hard products, and refreshing the interiors of the A380s would cost somewhere around 45 million EUR per frame
  • Air France’s A380s have horrible dispatch reliability, meaning that flights with the A380s are often significantly delayed, or even canceled

Bottom Line

Air France will be retiring all 10 of their A380s in the next three years, with the first one having already been retired. It’s a sad development for what was once thought  to be the future of aviation. At the same time, given how Air France configured these planes, I can’t say it’s much of a loss.

Comments
  1. We’re supposed to be flying an AF A380 in June CDG:ATL. I wouldn’t be too sad if they swapped aircraft to another plane with more modern biz class.

  2. Long haul on the 380 is such a pleasure, I’ll miss them when they’re gone. Have two 380 rides booked for next year and one is a daytime CDG-LAX on AF ride home with my wife. Could have done the better hard product on the 777, but figured I hadn’t ever done the AF 380 so why not get it in.

  3. I flew on this airframe CDG-LHR-CDG in 2010, when they did Crew training runs, before starting long haul service with this second delivered A380 for Air France. And now it’s retired, so sad :/
    Fun fact: While the aircraft was on the ground at Heathrow, all the A380 operators at the time where there at the same time: Air France, Emirates, Qantas and Singapore Airlines

  4. Ben, would you be able to elaborate on the economics behind the A380? If, say, you have an A380 with 500 seats, is it still cheaper to fly two 787s with 250 seats each? Would this apply to all cases, or can the A380 gain profitability where eg an airport is heavily slot restricted and slots are expensive? What about the cargo capacity of the A380 versus two smaller widebodies, etc?

    There must be so many routes in this world that have high demand, yet the A380 doesn’t seem to be a realistic option.

  5. For those of us who fly Y (apparently not many on this site) , it’s sad to see the A380 start to go. 10-across on the 777 is just cramped and the infotainment only tries to distract one from the fact you’re rubbing shoulders with the neighbours.

  6. @Daniel … in the case of two full planes, the single A380 is cheaper to operate. However let’s take the example of a IAD-CDG or another route with lots of traffic that can support the 380. AF has to not only fill 500 seats but fill 500 seats AT THE SAME DEPARTURE TIME, and people are willing to pay more on routes like this to fly the schedule that makes sense for them. So while it may cost them less to fly the same set of 500 people, they may make less money because with 787s, they can fly 250 people at 430pm and 250 people at 730pm instead of 500 people at 6pm. Also, at least in the case of 787s, they’re still flying a pretty efficient bird. A380’s really crush it against previous gen wide bodies.

  7. the aircraft I believe are best on trans pacific services save BAW with USA west coast operations. still, I enjoy QFA 789 service over their A380. KE is nice product, the 77W has friendlier interiors through out.

    I am curious how ANA manages the ICN HNL turns.
    nice to try an A380 while you can. then return to the real world.

  8. I have a flt booked on an A380 in August from CDG to ATL in premium economy. I have never flown one before so I really hope they do not swap it out before then. Anybody know which routes will be swapped out first and when?

  9. @Justin, thanks! I guess the A380 is the last one of the thirsty previous-gen widebodies. There should be niche markets, though. IAD-CDG is probably a good example of a route with lots of O/D and thus a versatile schedule is important.

    But carriers that rely heavily on banks and smooth transfers should be able to fly the A380 more profitably (ie Emirates) since they will, in any case, need to have everyone arrive at their hub at once and depart at once. Shouldn’t this work for smaller carriers, too, if their business plan is heavily based on connecting pax?

  10. @Daniel from Finland

    The 787-9, which Air France operates, has cargo capacity of 36 LD3 containers or 11 pallets, while the A380 only increases that to 38 LD3 containers or 13 pallets.

    The A380’s operating costs are more than double, perhaps even triple that of a 787-9, especially if you account for the poor dispatch reliability AF has experienced.

    The A380 makes sense on routes with heavy premium demand, as in AF’s configuration there are triple the F/J seats as on their 787-9. But if you’re not willing to invest in a keeping your hard product up to date, that premium ratio becomes untenable. I think Emirates is probably right that this plane makes more economic sense at scale, as well as for an airline that depends more on connecting traffic.

  11. Whatever your view, I find it extremely sad that such a grand feat of engineering (okay, I’m an engineer!) is coming to an end. Economics aside, it is an amazing aircraft.

  12. Why doesn’t Emirates buy these A380 and renovate them? Surely they have an operating life longer than 10 years? Is new that much cost efficient than old?

  13. @Jimmy

    On the AF A380 F is OK, but not as good as on their B777. Problem is J that is angle flat, and seriously outdated.

    Considering when the AF A380’s was delivered it makes the BA J in general look fantastic in comparison.

    The sad fact is that none of the EU3 (LH, AF and BA) has very good J seats in their A380.

  14. Damn – was that first retired A380 doing the CDG – JNB daily route? I’m flying to Johannesburg in February and the only reason I even booked AF was so that I can fly the A380.

  15. I am surprised by the number of negative comments.

    I love flying Air France’s A380 and fly it often between CDG and JNB as well as other routes.

    I still recall a conversation with a colleague many years ago when we first started flying the A380. We both commented on the low noise levels compared to other airframes and the perceived tranquil space.

    I prefer AF’s Prem Economy W on their A380. But I enjoy Y too. Wasn’t too impressed with J though.

    Also loved flying the A380 on other carriers

  16. No other aircraft gives you more of that feeling like not even being onboard an aircraft – which bores me to tears to be honest. So bye, bye and farewell, i’m not gonna miss that one!

  17. @neaorin I think they are still using an A380 on that flight for the time being. I am flying it this Friday and I checked my reservation when I saw this post, hoping there was a change of aircraft. Sadly, I am still stuck with the A380 and its outdated business class.

    While I agree with what others say about the comfort of the A380 as a plane (noise, air pressure, etc.), I have to say this is a great news for AF specifically given how outdated the hard product is. I was excited a few years ago when they announced they were going to update these cabins, but now that they have decided against it they can’t retire these soon enough.

  18. was flying last summer AF A380 CDG – JFK with my 81year old mom. Considering the flight time / day-flight…..I would not hesitate to take same flight again immediately. Old hard product? Of course. But nevetheless always excellent and quiet flights. Row 61 in the smaller compartment in the front.
    When travelling with a companion still a very good choice.
    Flying that configuration on a 14 hours night flight to Chile, may-be not! But on shorter flights to US East Coast, always again.

  19. Considering it’s a French made aircraft Air France had the worst business class possible!! Glad they decided to shut down. Pathetic they were and HOW !!

  20. Hate to see it, but I understand the business rationale for it. For those of us who read this blog, planes and air travel are not just practical but also emotional. However, if the plane does not fit the airline’s strategy or is not profitable, retirement is the way to go.

    It is sad for me because the only time I flew on an A380 was Air Frace from CDG to IAD. As Ben notes, the hard product was nothing special (though far more comfortable than economy so there is that practical reality!). But it was a thrill to see that giant superjumbo at the gate, knowing I would board it shortly! It’s that feeling why I really want to get on a 747 before they are gone!

  21. We have traveled few times to USA by A380 by Emirates and Air France. We feel that seats are very comfortable , less sound and smooth take off and landing. Me and my wife love traveling by A380 Aircraft.

  22. I HAD NEVER FLOWN A380 BEFORE AND DONT KNOW THE INSIDE LOOKS LIKE. THE ONE THING I LIKE ABOUT A380 IS THE LOW NOICE LEVEL. FANTASTIC!!!!! ITS SAD THAT MOST AMERICAN AIRLINES DIDNT BUY THIS ICONIC HOTEL SKY SUPERJUMBO.

  23. I love the A380! Going almost anywhere from Australia means long haul. I no longer have airline loyalty. I fly whoever is using the A380. It’s so comfortable even in Economy. The aircraft I try to avoid wherever possible is the Boeing 777 the most uncomfortable aircraft ever, even in Business.
    I have heard that the A380 is just not sufficiently profitable to operate. Is this true? If the 777 becomes the replacement for the A380 across all airlines I think my air travel days are over.

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