Sad: Hi Fly Retiring World’s First Secondhand A380

Filed Under: Other Airlines

The world’s only airline to operate a secondhand Airbus A380 will be ending its lease for the plane shortly.

Hi Fly won’t renew lease on Airbus A380

Hi Fly, which is a Portuguese charter airline that primary wet leases planes to other airlines (meaning Hi Fly provides the plane and crew) has announced that it won’t be extending the lease on its Airbus A380.

This A380 has the registration code 9H-MIP, and is in the distinctive “Save the Coral Reefs” livery. It had its first flight back in 2006.

Hi Fly A380 in its special livery

Hi Fly explains that the lease is up before the end of the year, following a nearly three year term for the plane. The airline claims that the decision not to extend the initial agreed upon lease period comes as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, which has greatly reduced demand for very large aircraft.

Hi Fly is one of only 15 airlines in the world to have operated the A380, and is now joining the list of airlines retiring the aircraft type altogether.

The history of Hi Fly’s A380

Hi Fly acquired its Airbus A380 in April 2018, becoming the first airline to pick up a secondhand A380. Initially the plan was for Hi Fly to acquire multiple A380s, but that never ended up happening.

Hi Fly’s A380 used to fly for Singapore Airlines. The airline had 10 year leases on its A380s, and chose not to renew the leases on its first five A380s. Given how unpopular the A380 has been with airlines (and therefore the lack of a secondhand market), I imagine that Hi Fly got quite a deal on this lease.

The airline even maintained the original Singapore Airlines cabins, meaning that there were even the original Suites seats on the plane (even if they weren’t often sold).

Hi Fly maintained Singapore Airlines’ cabins

Was Hi Fly’s A380 experiment “successful?”

In this announcement, Hi Fly notes that the retirement follows “almost three years of successful operations worldwide.” I’m not so sure I’d agree with that. I mean, I suppose operations were “successful” in the sense that the plane is still one piece, but that’s about all that can be said.

From day one Hi Fly’s A380 plan didn’t make much sense to me:

  • Most airlines looking to charter a plane don’t need as much capacity as is offered by the A380
  • The plane is in a pretty premium-heavy configuration, and most airlines willing to wet lease a plane from another airline are unlikely to be particularly premium
  • While I’m sure Hi Fly got a good deal on the lease, there were plenty of other secondhand planes available that offered more attractive capacity and operating costs

Hi Fly’s management repeatedly claimed it had secured long-term wet lease contracts with airline customers. For example, in mid-2018 it was claimed that an agreement had been signed with a major European carrier for a summer charter. That never materialized.

For that matter there wasn’t a single long-term lease customer. The longest commitment the Hi Fly A380 had was operating on behalf of Norwegian between London Gatwick and New York, due to issues with 787-9 engines. That lease ended up being a bit of a disaster as well.

It didn’t get much better after that. Looking at Hi Fly’s 2019 flight activity, in the first half of the year the airline operated a total of 10 charter flights. That’s it.

In July of this year Hi Fly converted its A380 into a cargo configuration, given the times. That didn’t seem to work very well, though, as the airline only operated two flights that weren’t to or from base — one from Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur, and one from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.

Hi Fly has converted its A380 into a cargo configuration

Bottom line

Hi Fly will be returning its A380 to the owner less than three years after acquiring the plane. The A380 initially flew for Singapore Airlines for a decade, making this the first secondhand A380 to re-enter service.

As much as I adore the A380 as a passenger, I could never make sense of Hi Fly’s plan with the plane, and I think the plane’s flight record speaks for what a failure this concept was. While Hi Fly claims that it’s getting rid of its A380 due to the pandemic, it seems to me like this would have happened either way.

There should be plenty of other smaller secondhand planes for Hi Fly to pick up now, in addition to its new A330-900neos.

Hi Fly’s new A330-900neo

Are you surprised to see Hi Fly get rid of its A380?

  1. Not unexpected at all. I figure it would have made more sense if they had gone for a 650-700-seat Y-heavy configuration (and if corona would have never happened).

  2. They can drop this one now and pick up another one if they want. No shortage of second hand a380s for the next few years.

  3. Too bad, but not surprising. The A380, a marvel of technology, was neither ahead of its time nor necessary in the end. It was a vanity project first and foremost, and has worked for just a small (very small) number of airlines. My prediction is that the A380 will be out of service for good in the next 10 years worldwide, and live on as a freighter. BA and EK will be the last and likely the only 2 airlines to operate the plane before it is fully retired from passenger service.

  4. Agreed, not ‘ successful’ at all by any measure of success.
    Not sad for Hi Fly in the slightest; we sat next to one of the senior Hi Fly management on a flight from Malta to Lisbon on Air Malta and he was aggressive and homophobic towards us and tried to humiliate us in front of his colleagues seated in the rows behind us much to their amusement.

  5. I think there is a good business oppurtunity coming out of corona in 2021 and 2022 if you can get an a380 for pennies on the dollar as there will be no shortage on wanting one considering everyone is retiring them if you can get a heavy or all Y config. I think back during 2016 and 2018 during world cup/olympic type events where a lot of people need to get to a specific place that far exceeds capacity. For example i had a LHR to NCE flight back in 2016 booked months in advance and after it was annouce england were to play in Nice the a319 i was supposed to fly on got swapped to a 77W as some 40k brits decended upon the french coast. There are times were capacity needs to go up 10-20x and a a380 can help in those instances but so can other planes that arent as useless 99% of the other time like the a380.

  6. @Wes
    Agreed, too bad about the plane.
    Not agreed: “alarmist livery?” Half of the Great Barrier Reef has died in the last 35 years. Does your hair need to be on fire before you think there is an issue?

  7. Very ironic, to have ‘save the coral reefs’ livery on the biggest gas guzzler of them all. Let’s address climate change by burning more fossil fuel!

  8. As is typical of the European Aerospace Industry it has an innate inability to build the right size plane for the right size market. Witness the Comet, the Concorde, the VC-10, the Brabazon, the list goes on and on with the A-380 being the icing on the cake. Boeing called it: hub and spoke is dead, point to point is where the future is at! Maybe next time Airbus, or the time after that, or the time after that.

  9. Anthony: boeing business model (or many american companies for that matter) after the 2000s is money first safety later…..

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.