This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it seems increasingly likely that Emirates won’t be flying a majority of its A380s for quite a while. That has been reaffirmed this week — first the airline terminated over half of its A380 pilots, and now it put even more A380 pilots on unpaid leave, with the possibility of termination at the end of 12 months.
Emirates is gradually resuming operations
Emirates has historically operated the world’s largest Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 fleets. The Dubai-based airline is the only one in the world that has loved the A380 — after all, it ordered nearly as many A380s as all other airlines combined.
Emirates has been hit hard by the current pandemic, as have all airlines. While Emirates has started resuming operations, its current schedule is just a shell of what it once was, given reduced demand and border restrictions.
As Emirates has resumed operations, the focus has primarily been on flying 777s, rather than A380s. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that the A380 offers way more capacity than is needed right now.
Emirates’ A380 fleet is currently 114-strong, and there has been lots of talk about the possibility of Emirates prematurely retiring dozens of A380s. While we still don’t have any confirmation on that front, one thing is for sure — not many A380s will be flying in the next 12 months.
Emirates is primarily flying Boeing 777s at the moment
Emirates has few A380 pilots remaining
The Gulf carriers in general have been tight-lipped about the number of employees that they’ve laid off, put on unpaid leave, etc. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that:
- The airlines are government owned, and generally aren’t very transparent about a lot of matters
- The airlines don’t have unions that can also publish this info
While we know the exact number of employees who have been furloughed at major US airlines, the same isn’t true in the Gulf.
Nonetheless I’ve been able to roughly piece together Emirates’ current pilot situation. These are all estimates and I can’t guarantee anything is 100% accurate, but I feel pretty confident about being in the right range.
Emirates has already laid off ~1,400 pilots
Before the pandemic, Emirates had roughly 4,300 pilots. At this point I’m told that Emirates has roughly 2,900 pilots remaining, meaning 1,400 pilots were laid off.
To be clear, those are actual layoffs — the pilots weren’t furloughed, and won’t be recalled if demand recovers. It’s my understanding that they wouldn’t even get preferential treatment if they apply in the future.
So, how were those layoffs split between 777 and A380 pilots? For context:
- Emirates has 114 A380s and 140 777s
- The planes operate roughly similar missions (ranging from flights of a few hundred miles, to 7,000+ mile flights), so the number of pilots needed per aircraft is roughly equal (this accounts for the fact that long haul flights sometimes have three or four pilots)
- Therefore you’d expect that under normal circumstances, ~45% of Emirates pilots would be A380 pilots
After the above layoffs, Emirates’ pilot composition by fleet is roughly as follows:
- ~75% of pilots are on the 777
- ~25% of pilots are on the A380
The fact that Emirates specifically laid off A380 pilots clearly suggests the airline sees those planes returning to service at a much slower pace.
Emirates has disproportionately laid off A380 pilots
Emirates now put A380 pilots on unpaid leave
While a large percentage of A380 pilots were laid off a few months ago, there’s now more. This week Emirates has put a majority of its remaining A380 pilots on 12 months of unpaid leave. Again, there’s no transparency here, so we don’t know actual numbers.
The best estimate I’ve heard is that at this point Emirates has well under 200 A380 pilots left, with a majority of those being UAE nationals (who weren’t subjected to layoffs).
For the pilots who have been put on unpaid leave:
- Pilots won’t receive any of the typical allowances, with the exception of an educational support allowance (for kids) and a housing allowance, for those who choose to stay in Dubai
- Pilots will retain their flight privileges and health coverage
- Even at the end of the 12 months, there’s no guarantee of being recalled; the company will do a business review, and then decide whether to put the pilots back into service or terminate them
So, if Emirates has at most 200 A380 pilots remaining (and this is on the high end of the estimates that I’ve heard), how many planes could it fly with that?
- Very rough math, but I’d assume that each A380 “frame” needs about 18 pilots, based on there previously being 2,000 pilots for 114 A380s
- That suggests that Emirates will be able to fly at most ~11 A380s in the next 12 months
- It’s possible pilots could operate a few more planes than that, given that most of Emirates’ A380 routes right now aren’t long haul, so have two pilots rather than four
Like I said, this is all very rough math, so don’t quote me on any of these individual numbers. However, the moral of the story is that Emirates has very few A380 pilots at this point, which also suggests that very few A380s will be flying over the next year.
Don’t expect to see many A380s flying in the next year
A while back Emirates terminated a majority of its A380 pilots, which at a minimum suggests that Emirates won’t fly most of its A380 fleet for a while. However, this week the airline has taken it to the next level, putting a majority of its remaining A380 pilots on a 12 month leave, at the end of which the pilots will either be recalled or terminated.
While we don’t have any exact numbers, I would estimate that Emirates now only has enough pilots to maybe operate 10-15 A380s.
Personally I have a hard time seeing a scenario where Emirates doesn’t prematurely retire some A380s, especially with the airline expected to take delivery of newer (smaller) planes in the coming years.
Are you surprised by just how few A380s Emirates plans on flying?