Why Asiana Is Considering Flying Empty A380s

Filed Under: Asiana

In addition to the global pandemic being incredibly costly for airlines, it’s also presenting a countless number of logistical challenges. Asiana’s current issue with A380 pilots is the perfect example of this…

Asiana’s problem with A380 pilots

Generally speaking airline pilots are only rated on one type of aircraft family (in other words, variants of the same plane, like the A319/320/321, are generally considered the same for these purposes). In some cases pilots may be rated on a couple of types of aircraft if there are enough similarities, like the 757 and 767.

In order for pilots to stay “current” with their ratings, they need to do a certain amount of flying every so often. A common rule globally is that airline pilots have to do at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to stay current on a plane type.

Asiana Airlines has a fleet of six Airbus A380s, though as is the case with airlines around the world, they’ve greatly decreased flights:

  • In February the airline operated about 300 A380 flights
  • In March the airline operated about 50 A380 flights
  • In April the airline operated zero A380 flights

Asiana has a total of 143 A380 pilots, but at this point they’re at risk of losing their certification to fly the plane as of this month.

In order to stay current on the aircraft type, Asiana pilots need to perform at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days. With Asiana now having grounded their A380 fleet, as of May lots of Asiana A380 pilots are at risk of not meeting that requirement, and that’s a problem.

Why this is a bigger problem for Asiana than others

You might be saying “well most airlines around the world have grounded fleets right now, so why is this problem unique to Asiana?” The issue comes down to flight simulators.

You can stay current on an aircraft by completing the takeoffs and landings in a flight simulator. That’s why many airlines will be sending their pilots to simulators in the coming weeks, even if they don’t plan on operating flights anytime soon.

The issue is that Asiana doesn’t have an A380 simulator:

  • Usually Asiana sends their pilots to Thai Airways’ A380 simulators in Bangkok, but Thailand has a two week self quarantine, so the airline views this as not being a practical option
  • Asiana asked to use Korean Air’s A380 simulator, but Korean Air is busy using their simulator to keep their own pilots current on the 10 A380s that they have
  • Asiana asked Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, to extend certifications, but the organization refused, noting that this is an international requirement, and the organization can’t extend it unilaterally

With Asiana having no plans to resume A380 flights anytime soon, and with no access to practical A380 simulators, the airline is considering another option. Asiana may just have their pilots complete their takeoffs and landings in actual A380s without passengers. We could very well see Asiana A380s soon doing takeoffs and landings to keep their pilots current.

Apparently the airline is considering this option, though if they do, they’ll only keep a minimal number of pilots current on the A380. After all, this is going to be costly. But arguably it’s less costly than being in a situation where the airline has no certified A380 pilots anymore.

The process of once again getting pilots certified on the plane could take about a month.

Bottom line

Airlines are facing lots of logistical challenges at the moment, and that’s especially apparent when it comes to keeping pilots current. For many airlines this isn’t an issue because they have simulators, but Asiana doesn’t have any A380 simulators.

With other airlines not having any extra simulator time available, along with international immigration restrictions, this is creating a challenge for the airline…

Interesting stuff, eh?

Comments
  1. Ryanair is doing the same with its planes to not only avoiding this issue with pilots proficiency, but also to avoid having to store the airplanes long term. Not sure if it envolves all its pilots and planes, or not.

  2. Why are my comments being censored? Apparently I can only be of the opinion of mainstream media.

  3. I take that the three take offs and landings in their simulator isn’t enough for rating proficiency.

  4. @ Endre — It is sufficient, but they don’t have any A380 simulators, and can’t easily find any for their pilots.

  5. Honestly, this is terrible for the environment. This company should be ashamed of itself.

  6. Still doesn’t sound like a great idea. If it only takes a month to get a pilot re-certified, then why not wait until you actually need the a380s again? Even as routes reopen, they’ll probably first be with smaller planes so they’ll have plenty of time to recertifying their crews. And I bet that’s still a lot cheaper than a single takeoff / landing (I imagine each cycle only counts for whichever pilot is doing the actual procedure, i.e. being the copilot doesn’t count)

  7. So they need 143 flights a month (average over 90 days, no resignations or deaths among pilots). That is less than 5 flights a day or 7 per day if no weekend flights. Maybe fly Gimpo (Seoul) / ICN or ICN-ICN flights?

  8. I love flying on a380s and have not been on anything approaching them in comfort. But These huge leviathans might cost more to long term store in the Australian or Mongolian Outback, than to keep running ready for usage, as South Korea and Asia seem well past the pandemic peak and they may be utilised continentally. But problem is that they fly to Europe and USA with the a380s, so only Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo are realistic a380 options for the next couple of months of active service.

  9. In lack of available simulators, we just stayed in pattern with Tu-134/154 at BUD back in the ’70s With empty planes (and Tu-134 was originally a very nible light bomber design with bomber/navigator seating in nose with glass nose cone) we could do some pretty wild (steep) turns to stay in a small tight pattern.

  10. @John:

    Get a grip. When you make follow-up comments like that, though, we can only assume you’re a troll or an idiot or both. Ben and his team don’t randomly sensor comments for opposing viewpoints. Are you sure you’re not actually a bigot who’s trying to play the “persecuted silent majority” card?

  11. EK Training Centre is closed, their pilots will lose currency. It’s just a single sim ride to regain currency (with an instructor, whereas if you do your 3 take-offs and landings while still current you don’t need an instructor with you, so it’s really a bit weird that they are going this route. And presumably they’d just be flying circuit patterns? You didn’t specify

  12. I remember in the days before simulators my Dad would take me to the end of 19R at Dulles and we would watch the same American 707 do 10-20 consecutive touch-n-go’s to train their pilots on the weekends. The thick black smoke they left behind with each pass was both beautiful and stinky. There was no ozone back then to worry about.

  13. I agree with @John…
    OMT – why allow a comments section if only limited to one point of view?

    The more you ‘censor’ your readers, the more people will push back.
    Your amazing site risks being an ‘outlet’ for those of one political belief…
    I’m surprised you are OK with that.

    I respect those on both sides of the political spectrum and I am interested in their point of view. Please let them be heard.

  14. @ AR @ JoeBoo — The issue seems to be a lack of comprehension regarding the differences between “opinions” and “facts”.

    e.g. “bs hoax,” “it’s the flu,” “it’s not even as deadly as [insert random non-contagious cause of death],” “check out this conspiracy theorist site that has the real scoop” — Not factual or evidence-based, and is unhelpful during a global health crisis. We’ll continue to delete this kind of dangerous misinformation, as it serves of no benefit to this community.

    Whereas “I don’t care if 2M Americans die, let’s open everything back up!” while something we find reprehensible, is an opinion. And when separated from faux-facts like the above, we’re mostly leaving those comments up (provided they aren’t otherwise problematic).

  15. Just to be clear, this is not a “political” issue. Studies in the past five years have shown that adherence to pseudoscience (such as the anti-vaccine believers) is equally split among the far left and the far right in the United States.

    And we’d prefer to keep that kind of extremism out of our house, so that the moderate and reasonable majority of our readers can continue to enjoy the community.

  16. Massive +1 Tiffany!

    If one wants to “storm the virtual capitol” (a la the borderline domestic terrorists in Michigan) and demand a re-opening on this site in the comments – you’re probably in the minority, but post away

    If you decry this as a hoax, just a flu, celebrate flying daily just for sh!ts and giggles – go take your garbage to the Dark Web

  17. Well done, Tiffany, and thank you.

    I am an occasional vocal critic of this site (not for political issues) but your posts above are spot-on. The world is being attacked by fascists. Yes, fascists. I don’t use that term lightly. Anyone with a platform, whether a journalist or a blogger or an e-commerce site, has to make a choice: either you stand up and fight them, or you just shrug and accept them and let them take over the world. Bravo to you for standing up to these bullies.

    You have earned my respect for your stance on this (and, frankly, I am not inclined to give that easily). Good job, please keep standing up for truth.

    You can post my comment or not as you see fit. Either way, I sincerely thank you for this.

  18. And now…back on topic…

    The best (least expensive) solution would be to wait until they expect to actually need pilots for upcoming A380 revenue flights (honestly, that could be a very, very long time, like a year or two, maybe more – some airlines are projecting it’ll be 4 years until demand gets back to what it was like pre-covid). Then, send the crews to Bangkok. If Thailand is still requiring a quarantine at that point (extremely unlikely in another year or two), then they sit in a hotel for 2 weeks, not a big deal, then do the SIM time, then come home. All a heckuva lot cheaper than flying empty A380s around the sky every 90 days (for each crew) for the next 2 years – that’s just crazy.

    The A380s should be pickled wherever OZ has them parked currently (or fly them to some dry desert airfield for long-term storage in Mongolia, Kazakhstan or wherever). They’re not going to get any airtime for a long, long while.

  19. Surely demand won’t pick up to the point that they need the A380s flying again before Thailand re-opens to foreigners.

  20. Stuff like this is becoming more and more of a problem for me from Lucky. Take the first heading section for example,

    “Asiana’s problem with A380 pilots
    Generally speaking airline pilots are only rated on one type of aircraft family (in other words, variants of the same plane, like the A319/320/321, are generally considered the same for these purposes). In some cases pilots may be rated on a couple of types of aircraft if there are enough similarities, like the 757 and 767.

    In order for pilots to stay “current” with their ratings, they need to do a certain amount of flying every so often. A common rule globally is that airline pilots have to do at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to stay current on a plane type.

    Asiana Airlines has a fleet of six Airbus A380s, though as is the case with airlines around the world, they’ve greatly decreased flights:

    In February the airline operated about 300 A380 flights
    In March the airline operated about 50 A380 flights
    In April the airline operated zero A380 flights
    Asiana has a total of 143 A380 pilots, but at this point they’re at risk of losing their certification to fly the plane as of this month.

    In order to stay current on the aircraft type, Asiana pilots need to perform at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days. With Asiana now having grounded their A380 fleet, as of May lots of Asiana A380 pilots are at risk of not meeting that requirement, and that’s a problem.”

    How is the last paragraph of this section not redundant? It’s basically like saying, there’s a pilot problem, you need to do this but you can’t so you have a pilot problem; Asiana has a pilot problem, Asiana needs to do this but it can’t so Asiana has a problem.

    Like I get this is a tough time for travel bloggers not being able to travel but still need to keep up the traffic of the blog, but mindlessly or maybe intentionally repeating and creating redundancy so the article doesn’t look short, is something I used to do in college to get by with my essay word limit from the professor and got grilled hard on it later by my professor coz anyone with a brain can tell I’m just repeating the same thing for no reason.

    Guys, is it just me?

  21. I don’t buy Korean Air’s excuse – are they really running the A380 simulator 24/7? I’m sure Asiana would be far happier to have their pilots use the sim at night/weekend than running empty planes. I understand that they’re competitors but this would be great PR for Korean Air.

  22. Could they load many pilots on one plane and take turns doing touch and gos, or do the flights need to be full stop on the ground?

    Also, if they stay under a certain altitude, does it still count as cycles on the airframe?

  23. @Tiffany, very well articulated, thank you for your work.
    @Lucky, kudos for keeping this site interesting in these times, thank you for your work.

  24. “it’s not even as deadly as [insert random non-contagious cause of death],” “check out this conspiracy theorist site that has the real scoop” — Not factual or evidence-based, and is unhelpful during a global health crisis.

    Actually comparisons of rates of death to other (contagious or non-contagious) causes of death are factual, evidence-based and can be very helpful in some cases.

    There’s a values-based patronising tone to the schoolmistress tone, it’s unattractive.

    On a related note, this whole site is predicated on making (often positive) values-based judgments about:
    – luxury travel which contributes to a much bigger public health crisis, and
    – credit card issuing usurers who contribute to widespread mental and physical health problems for debtors.
    So, it’s a bit hypocritical to pull out the “no values-based judgments in a public health crisis” routine.

  25. Ideas that are “factual” can be put together in misleading ways. Whats the quote – there’s lies, damned lies, and statistics.

  26. I agree with Simon where I don’t buy Korean Air’s excuse. Yes Korean Air has 10 a380s but obviously not all of them will come back to schedule. During a crisis such as this one i would think Korean air would be friendlier with its competitor.

  27. Do you think there’s any possibility of Asiana going under with this crisis? They had numerous financial troubles even before this began and they are clearly the #2 airline in South Korea behind Korean Air so presumably, the government would try to save KE first if airlines need to be bailed out. OZ has been my main FFP for years and I have 100,000+ miles with them right now and I’d rather not lose them, in addition to their *A Gold earning opportunity.

  28. Since both KE n OZ are taking bail out money perhaps the money lenders (aka Korean government) could add in a clause that KE simulator must be opened to all Korean air carriers!!

  29. Eddie – Almost every article on this site is the same, the same points are repeated several times and then summarised yet again at the end.

    There’s absolutely no need for a table of contents either – these are short articles that take a couple of minutes to read! I’m guessing it gives more space for adverts?

    Either way, the information is still just as good so I’m not going to complain too much!

  30. @Weymar M Osborne

    Both KE and OZ got trillions of government money so do not worry about them going bust.

  31. @Eddie, it’s just you, yes. And you’re quoting of so much text in your comment before you made your point was far more irritating.

  32. Totally agree with @David Seet that government bail out should go with the condition to share simulator capacity.

    Other than that, I also wonder why they are not doing some cargo flights with their A380. I understand that this might not be a super profitable thing, but as long as it covers at least marginal cost (i.e. the fuel, airway and airport fees etc.), it would be economically more sensible.

  33. How will they handle IFR currency? Do they also need an A380 airplane or simulator for their approaches, holds, and intercepting and tracking to count? Or can that be done on a different simulator?

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