Malaysia Airlines Retiring Airbus A380 Fleet

Filed Under: Malaysia

The pandemic has caused the acceleration of Airbus A380 retirements. Air France, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, and Thai Airways have retired (or plan to retire) their A380 fleets, while Qatar Airways seems highly likely to retire its A380 fleet. There’s now another airline officially retiring the A380.

Malaysia Airlines’ A380 fleet is history

As reported by Executive Traveller, Malaysia Airlines’ CEO has confirmed that the airline plans to retire its Airbus A380 fleet:

We are cognizant of the challenges to sell this aeroplane, but we are still looking at ways and means to dispose of our 380 fleet. At the moment, the management is convinced that the 380 doesn’t fit the future plan.

For context, Malaysia Airlines has just six Airbus A380s, which the airline took delivery of in 2012 and 2013.

Malaysia Airlines is retiring its Airbus A380s

Malaysia Airlines’ A380s feature a total of 494 seats, including:

  • Eight first class seats on the lower deck in a 1-2-1 configuration, which are nowadays branded as “Business Suites”
  • 66 business class seats on the upper deck in a 2-2-2 configuration, which are fully flat
  • 420 economy seats on both the lower deck and upper deck; on the lower deck they’re in a 3-4-3 configuration, while on the upper deck they’re in a 2-4-2 configuration

Malaysia Airlines’ A380 first class

Malaysia Airlines’ A380 business class

This is the least surprising A380 retirement

The reality is that you can’t even really blame Malaysia Airlines’ A380 retirement on the pandemic. Like so many other airlines, Malaysia Airlines has historically been a poorly run, government owned airline.

The airline received enough funding to stay in business, but not not enough freedom to become a viable business. Prestige has been prioritized over profitability, and this A380 order is a reflection of that.

Malaysia Airlines was trying to sell its A380 fleet going as far back as 2015. In 2016 the airline came up with a plan to create a sister business whereby the airline would wet lease A380s to other carriers on a short term basis. The idea of using these planes for Hajj and Umrah flying was also considered.

Then in 2017 Malaysia Airlines’ management changed its mind again, and the new plan was to add A380s to destinations that needed more capacity. Since then, these planes have been severely underutilized.

Bottom line

Malaysia Airlines will finally be retiring its fleet of six Airbus A380s. The airline was considering getting rid of its A380s going as far back as 2015, and the airline hasn’t been flying these planes much, even pre-pandemic. It looks like at this point the airline will dump the planes no matter what, even if Malaysia Airlines can’t get any money for them.

Anyone surprised to see Malaysia Airlines finally retire A380s?

  1. @Lucky …What photos you posted of the hard product makes me think they won’t be missed. How has your experience been when you’ve flown on Malaysian Airlines

  2. Wasn’t the fleet essentially parked for a few years already, and only used for Haj flights?

  3. Three important words are missing from the announcement and should have been there: ‘with immediate effect’. Goodness knows how long these A380s are going to stick around at KUL before they make their final pilgrimage to the desert.

  4. @shoeguy: Yes, indeed. So it sounds like retiring a retiree … may be their lease comes to an end, which means that the trouble where to park them and the maintenance cost will no longer be with MH, but with the lessor. I assume the lessor will take the full write down and scrap them asap.

  5. Maybe Emirates should recommit to the A380 with the plan to buy all these retired planes on the cheap (seems like they’d be a monopsony).

  6. I’m glad the airline CEO is “cognizant of the challenges to sell this aeroplane” — an aeroplane they shouldn’t have purchased in the first place. But corruption still is too tempting.

  7. I do wonder with so many cheap, still relatively young second hand A380S on the market if any airline would risk/take a punt on them? A startup based in London as an example with say 15-20 second hand A380S could take on BA in the transatlantic market. Simply launch LGW/STN flights to NYC/BOS/LAX/SFO offer $220-$250 economy return fares, Premium Economy at $450-$500 and Business Class at $900. Keep the Lie Flat business class seats, add a large premium economy section and maintain economy as is. Averaging load factors of 73% to NYC, an airline could make a profit, albeit that is with a one flight a day frequency so would be more suited to leisure travellers. Just a thought but i could see someone trying this!

  8. @AAM-101: Norwegian tried this with very fuel-efficient and high density 787s and couldn’t really turn a profit. I think a start-up would have better luck with A321LRs than A380s – far less seats to fill on every flight.

  9. Ben –
    I understand the concept that some of these 4-engine “jumbos” are not fuel efficient and cost too much to fly, but maybe you can do an article or point us in a direction to put some solid data behind some of these? Call me wild and crazy – but, for example, with modern GE engines – why cant Boeing modify the 747 into a 2 engine jet? The concept of 747/380’s shuttling in high-density routes (USA-England and some of these popular Asian airports) makes you wonder why someone cant make this work. Write-off or not, gutting these planes cant be cheap…..


  10. I think the MH370 tragedy back in spring 2014 and how several people tried avoiding flying MH helped in the decision for management to try and get rid of their A380s back in 2015.

  11. Surely here is still a market for these aircraft with very few rotations if they were sold for cheap ?? High volume routes at low cost still has to be an option when the world opens up again.

  12. @AmericanAirlinesMarketing101 The operating cost of the A380 is commonly cited to be around $26K-$29K a hour. So London to NYC/BOS (~7 hours) would cost around $180K-$200K, while SFO/LAX (~10 hours) would cost around $250K-$300K. Using Emirates’ high density config as the baseline (58J 557Y), the price points you propose would yield less than $200K on a packed flight. EY typically requires 50% more square footage per seat than Y, so you can swap 5 rows of 10-abreast Y to 4 rows of 8-abreast EY to get an extra $3.5K.

    I’m interesting to see how you come up with the break even point at 73% load.

  13. @AmericanAirlinesMarketing101 and Milo:

    Instead of the low-cost route with second-hand A380’s, maybe some of those second-hand A380’s could potentially be profitable going for the higher-end travelers on certain routes. For example, if Etihad sells their A380’s cheap (they are probably getting rid of them sometime in the near future), an American startup could use them on routes with higher spenders like JFK to LHR, LAX to JFK, and LAX to MIA, for example. If flying the Etihad A380’s, that start up would have a better product across the board than any other airline flying those routes (in economy, business, first class, and the Residence).

  14. @michael The 777-9 is almost as big as 747 classics from a capacity standpoint. If you are talking about 747-8, a single GE9X used on 777-9 generates only about 80% of the takeoff thrust generated by 2 GEnx used on 747-8. I doubt the GE9X can be pushed to generate that extra 25% thrust. Moreover, if you look at the size and weight of GE9X (4158mm height, 9630kg) compared to GEnx (3233mm, 5623kg), Boeing would likely need a redesigned wing and perhaps different landing gears to properly mount these behemoths for the 747-8. It would be far cheaper to launch the 777-10 to add more capacity to get it closer to what B747-400 used to offer.

    As for fuel burns, here is a data set I found on wikipedia for a 6000nm sector:

    A380: 13.78kg/km (3.16 L/100 km per seat)
    B747-8: 10.54 kg/km (3.35 L/100 km per seat)
    B777-300ER: 8.49 kg/km (2.91 L/100 km per seat)
    B777-9: 7.69 kg/km (2.42 L/100 km per seat)
    B787-9: 7.18 kg/km (3.08 L/100 km per seat)
    A350-900: 7.07 kg/km (2.81 L/100 km per seat)

    The data seems to suggest a much closer correlation between fuel burn numbers and thrust than the number of engines. The problem with A380 and B747 is that the fuel cost per seat mile metric looks competitive with a full load but rapidly deteriorates with decreasing load.

  15. Lucky, it’d be interesting if you wrote a piece on whether there are any airlines for which the A380 still makes sense, and particularly whether acquiring a few second-hand for presumably very cheap is logical. Obviously there’s Emirates, but I could see a few additional A380’s working for British Airways given how congested Heathrow is, or perhaps ANA could pick up an additional few. I could see A380’s from Tokyo to places like Los Angeles or Paris making sense.

  16. So far the A380 is my best flying experience. and if I look at the safety records for all A380 then I can’t find any better for any aircraft model being flying for over 10 years. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little bit more for your comfort and for your service. Comparing with the newest Boing models on the market Airbus seems to care much more about the safety of their passengers than for their profit. I would never get on a Boing 737 or a 787. But good luck to all. For me, it’s sad to see this great airplane being retired, mostly because of the COVID epidemic situation. Thank you to Emirates and others to keep their commitment to the A380, I am sure that in the future there will be a great market for this airplane in key international cities. If possible I will always travel on the airline that offers A380 (if available on the destination) and if not then with the airline that offers A350. But it’s a free world and thankfully we can all choose our own preferences. Safe travel to everybody. And hopefully in a world without any COVID very soon.

  17. MAS were incredibly stupid (or corrupt?) with their A380’s. I flew KUL-HKG J in a 2-2-2 ANGLED FLAT config, which at the time was so passed its sell by date. And no direct aisle access for all.

    Add to that the fact that, when they bought them MH were the ONLY non-stop flight KUL-LHR, before BA resumed flights, which they have since suspended. How could they not turn a profit? (I know the answer, and they probably did, but it never went into the balance sheet….)

    As a footnote, the concept of using A380 in a combi config (per B747) with cargo on the two lower decks and pax on just the upper deck, seems to me to be a business runner. To be full functional, they would have to include a cargo door, which may put the concept beyond profit.

  18. Even before the pandemics I am trying to fly all the airlines with its A380s, and I had already given up on Malaysia airlines’ as they are just not flying so much anyway… and those few of them flying are kind of.., on random routes…

  19. If you know the way Malaysia works, you will know that the only reason they got the A380 at all is because Singapore airlines got them… that sort of reasoning isn’t really good for business.

  20. @Lucky

    You correctly reported that MH First has been re-branded Business Suite, but omitted to say why this is so.

    MH carry many many government free loaders and their relatives, frequently, in the case of ministers at least, demanding first class. In order to cut back the cost, first class government travel was not allowed. So MH re-branded it to Business Suite, so that they could still fly in first class accommodation.

    With that sort of business thinking how can they turn their heads to making some money out of their A380’s. They had the route network to do it, and they had many loyal supporters.

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