Qatar Airways Argues It’s Unethical To Fly The A380

Filed Under: Qatar

Here’s an interesting argument from Qatar Airways regarding its current fleet strategy.

Qatar Airways has grounded its A380 fleet…

Like many airlines around the world, Qatar Airways has grounded its A380 fleet. This makes sense, given the lack of demand for global travel at the moment.

What I find interesting is an email I just received from a Qatar Airways PR representative, who wanted to see if I was interested in covering a story about the ethics of flying the A380 amidst the current pandemic. Suffice to say that I was intrigued.

Qatar Airways is the first airline in the Middle East, and just the fifth airline in the world, to secure the highest level of accreditation in the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Environmental Assessment Program.

The pitch goes on to state that Qatar Airways has decided to ground its fleet of 10 Airbus A380s during the pandemic, instead focusing on utilizing its fleet of 30 Boeing 787s and 49 Airbus A350s.

Using these planes make sense, since they best meet current demand. As it’s described, this allows the airline to remain nimble, and upgrade and downgrade each route based on passenger demand and travel restrictions.

Qatar Airways is currently operating its A350 fleet

…for environmental reasons?!

What I find interesting about the argument is that it’s claimed that “the company believes it is not commercially or environmentally justifiable to operate such a large aircraft in the current market.”

This is supported by explaining that benchmark figures identified that Qatar Airways’ fleet of A350s consumes half the fuel per block hour compared to the A380, which translates to a difference of 20 tons of CO2 per block hour.

Qatar Airways’ entire A380 fleet is grounded right now

Why I find this to be so interesting

I totally get why Qatar Airways has grounded its A380 fleet, and that makes sense for commercial reasons. But the fact that the company is specifically trying to pitch stories about the ethics of operating the A380 right now is noteworthy, and can’t help but come across as a bit of a dig at Emirates, which recently restarted A380 operations, after grounding the fleet for months.

Airlines have long made environmental arguments that suit their agendas. For example:

  • Lufthansa’s CEO has argued that “flights for less than 10EUR shouldn’t exist,” because they’re “economically, ecologically, and politically irresponsible”
  • Wizz Air’s CEO has argued that business class should be banned on most flights to reduce emissions, arguing that Wizz Air has the lowest per passenger emissions among its competitors

Airlines make environmental arguments that suit their agendas

In many ways environmental arguments have fallen by the wayside during the current pandemic. In the past airlines were shamed for emissions, while right now airlines are being shamed when they don’t block seats for additional distancing, which obviously means that per passenger emissions are much higher than usual.

Is flying the A380 environmentally unjustifiable, or is it actually justifiable in terms of the additional spacing it would provide passengers?

There’s certainly some irony to Qatar Airways arguing routes are environmentally unsuitable, when this is the same airline that has launched more than one route to “rub salt in the wound” of competitors.

Bottom line

Like many other airlines, Qatar Airways has grounded its A380 fleet. While that makes perfect sense, I’m a bit puzzled by the decision to specifically start promoting to the media that flying the A380 is unethical.

It’s a strange time for environmentalism in the airline industry. We spent so many years talking about how airlines need to reduce emissions, while now airlines that are selling planes to capacity are being shamed.

What do you make of Qatar Airways’ perspective on the ethics of flying the A380?

Comments
  1. If you actually believe this sort of environmentalist garbage, it’s unethical to fly at all, ever, in any plane. It’s also unethical to drive, especially in electric cars that require the mining of rare earth elements that are destructive to the environment.
    It’s unethical to build wind power farms as the blades and motors of this equipment can’t be recycled and much of it ends up in landfill once its passed its useful lifespan.

    The problem is, where do you stop with this sort of stuff? Do you take it to the extremes of the Extinction Rebellion and turn it into a branch Davidian style death cult? Do you just ignore it all, let humanity continue to work on ways to make more fuel efficient transportation and more generally efficient ways of living?

    I prefer the latter.

    I’m not going to get too much into ethics, but I’ll be clear here. Corporations have no ethics. Corporations are psychopaths. Qatar have many many problems, not just the A380. They’re a country that still engages in slavery. Not the fanciful made up social justice slavery. Actual human selling slavery. Their record on human rights and execution of gays is abhorrent.

    For an airline owned by the Qatar government, I don’t think they have a position to be making judgements on the ethics of anything.

  2. Their A380 configuration is decidedly inferior to what they offer on their A350-1000 and select A359 and Boeing 777. The A380 has had its time in the sun. Shelve it permanently for all I care, for whatever reason they want to say. For me, it’s the twin engines all the way

  3. QR’s point makes sense when you consider the emissions – per passenger – on a fully-loaded A380 are the same or likely slightly less than a fully-loaded B777.

    But when you only have, say, 250 (or fewer) passengers on a 500-seat A380, the emissions per passenger skyrocket. Given the weak demand environment, a B777 with a high load makes for better economics and a lower environmental footprint.

  4. Meanwhile it’s perfectly OK for Airlines to bring back the 737MAX, which killed hundreds of people because of Boeing’s blatant negligence.

  5. Of course its a dig at its neighbours, anything for a bit of PR.. it’s getting boring QR! Their A380 is indeed inferior, in particular in F. Yawn…

    There are plenty of environmental issues in the state of Qatar. In addition to smog and acid rain, they, like other GCC countries have been affected by the air pollution generated during the Persian Gulf War. Pollution from their oil & gad industry also poses a threat to their water.

  6. In privacy, there are still Pilots that will admit they prefer 4 engines.

    I am not sure that all nations and their associated airlines have earned the right to discuss Ethics.

  7. @Donato those same pilots would probably say they prefer 5 engines to 4 if asked. Which is perfectly fair. All other considerations being equal, you’d be silly not to want as many engines as possible. But all other considerations are not equal and when you weigh the operating cost and environment concerns with 4 engine aircraft against the cost and environmental benefits, plus the reliability of the modern jet turbofan engine, the 2 engine aircraft wins out.

  8. Today’s world cares about every sh….it. Starting with rainbows in the streets and ending with Greta troubles.

  9. QR being QR, nothing new to see here…
    On other news IB and UX negotiations have progressed and the sale still seems likely go forward, with the purchase price falling from 1.1B € to somewhere in the 500M € range. Thanks EU Comission

  10. @Ryan
    The world has shifted to 2 engines and aircraft are not falling out of the sky. Indeed.
    In my opinion, no compromise to safety is justified by environmental concerns alone. I believe the shift was caused by economical concerns, the real decision makers make their decisions first and then PR people color it in with ‘love of the environment” details.

    I was traveling SWISSAIR the night they lost a flight from JFK. I also was booked to take a SWISS flight that I cancelled after the aircraft made an emergency landing in Iqualuit. Had they been on a 4 engine aircraft it might not have needed to land immediately. If memory serve sme the aircraft was stranded till they could fly in a replacement engine, mechanics and a temprary building to accommodate the repair.

  11. Really depends on segment demand. If you are flying two A350s because they can’t handle the capacity then it’s no different (based on the stated 50% efficiency difference) from flying a single A380 if the A380 can accommodate the capacity from both A350s

  12. Ask Capt. Richard de Crespigny (my hero) experiences of flying A380 if any business person thinking about using 2 engines is more economical than 4 engines.

  13. I’m confounded by the rationale that a plane that has HALF the CO2 emission can be so superior when it also seats HALF the number of people!

    Surely it’s CO2 per seat/passenger – and yes seat economics and flying planes empty is obviously not very environmental but it’s misleading to say the A380 is any more negative for the environment when it’s used appropriately as per its specs and seat capacity.

    This is about potential environmental wastage of resources rather than the plane itself.

  14. One might point out the huge CO2 impact of taking unnecessary connecting flights through DOH to fly QR rather than taking a direct flight on a competitor. Is that what QR is suggesting we do instead to save the environment in future?

    Or the massive CO2 impact of running a large fleet of 75% empty planes through the last 6 months of pandemic just because you can…

  15. Don’t overlook the fact that unlike most of the Gulf, Qatar’s revenue comes more from natural gas than from oil. They have a different set of incentives than the UAE to be sure.

  16. Let’s not forget the recent shaming that QR got for flying 9 787s form Seattle to Doha and then back and for that shor cargo flight between Belgium and The Netherlands

  17. Exactly Matt and David.

    Their argument isn’t even logical; it’s just a logical outcome of demand and efficiency. The A380 is not less efficient per passenger, but if your demand isn’t great enough to use it, then it’s not the right aircraft for the route.

    So their decisions is a rational business decision, nothing to do with the environment. This is just pointless PR fluff at best, or misleading, deceptive, self serving commentary against competitors at worst.

  18. Nothing whatever to do with ethics. It is certainly commercially unviable in the current circumstances though. Not sure why QR is looking for a fig-leaf excuse for parking their 380s .

  19. Al Bakar is full of it. Just wait till demand picks up again(whenever that may be) and watch him and his bean counters JUMP to reinstate the A380 and sing it’s praises. If he can fill an A380 that is much preferred to 2-3 smaller flights a day and much more environmentally friendly. From a passenger perspective the A380 is the absolute ultimate aircraft to fly in long and ultra long haul.

  20. Is it environmentally and human rights wise ethical for Qatar to host football WC 2022? After all Qatar airways a major part of it….

    Making big fancy stadiums which will barely be used after that? Using Aircon to cool them? Using glorified slave labour and making them work in inhumane conditions. Not to mention bribing to win the bid?

    Really Qatar airways? People living in glass houses shouldn’t play with stones…..

  21. Really speaking, environmental and ethical considerations have rarely mattered in the modern world. This is especially true in the Middle East. Wars and sudden geopolitical outbursts, that are most damaging to the environment and ethically-repulsive have been and are very much at home to the region, regardless of the fact that these are often hatched at the behest of extra-regional great powers.

    Meanwhile, the apparent Qatar Airways vs. Emirates pragmatic/moral alleged spats are nothing but just excuses to competitively flount the capacities of their relative wealth at the world, when most of their rivals can’t afford to indulge in such excesses, owing to the negative impacts of the ongoing PLANdemic !

  22. I’m guessing that they think it is unethical to use these planes at the moment simply because they can’t fill them enough to justify the CO2 emitted . Once they fill them again, the rate of CO2 produced per passenger will be lower. This makes sense to me.

  23. @ Donato

    That Swissair was an MD-11, three engine. Reason that plane crashed wasn’t because of how many engines it had…

    A380 in my opinion is for high capacity routes/services. A mate recently travelled on a Qatari A35K (A350-1000) from Sydney to Doha. The flight had maximum 50 passengers. There’s really no point operating large planes. Maybe 1-3 years from now it will be back in full swing, likely busier than ever.

  24. It’s utter nonsense! It’s a clear dig at Emirates. Also their fare prices are higher than Emirates at the moment when hundreds of passengers are desperate to get back home after being stranded since the lockdown. Where are the ethics here for Qatar?

  25. So weird… it’s almost as if Qatar who has a horrible record treating employees like trash suddenly cares so much about the environment. Do as I say, not as I do.

    Sort of like some we all know on this blog…

  26. Qatar Airways lost its right to discuss what is or isn’t ethical when they devalued the Privilege Club Miles by 40% over night without any warning to its members!

  27. Ethics “climate change” and corona seems always to be a good excuse to save money for airlines .
    Charging full fares but closing lounges and offering “Reduced service” on planes.
    As on LH intra European…WHY should I pay a C fare to get an uncomfortable eco seat but free middle seat…
    When they reopened their first lounges , catering consisted of a water bottle and Kitkat , Chips Grain bar and coffee served in a paper cup , because of corona .
    As tap water in Germany in most cities is equal to or even better than bottled R/O water , they could have announced :
    Due to the pandemic and global warming , we have decided to suspend bottled water in our lounge . Please use the taps in our washrooms . Remember to keep distance while waiting in line . Your nose mouth cover may only be removed during drinking.
    THANK YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING

  28. The whole issue makes no sense, when if you use Flight Radar regular you would know that Qatar along with others are running two planes to the same destination, some barely 15mins apart. Two planes, four engines and two landing charges. How is that possibly more economical than one A380?

  29. @ Charlie:
    “Charging full fares but closing lounges and offering “Reduced service” on planes.
    As on LH intra European…WHY should I pay a C fare to get an uncomfortable eco seat but free middle seat…”

    Simply because it’s the new market law… However nonsensical, people perceive that Business or F Class will give them nmore “space” to isolate..

    My 2 upcoming flights this week intra-US:
    One booked 8/8 in F, 5/120 in Y
    One booked 10/11 in F, 20/80 in Y

    Not a good time for Elite free upgrades, but who cares?
    Also, AA seems to have made remarkable adjustments to F/Y fares to take into account the almost complete lack of serfvice in either class.

  30. Well your screwed if one engine plays up on a two engine plane when a A380 and a A340 for that matter can land easily with 3, I mean ask Richard de Crespigney when he had to land that Qantas A380 with a damaged engine, with more or less a full tank of fuel and only 3 working engines

  31. Didn’t they just switch over to robot-jockeys from the 6-year-old slave-boys that they always used for camel-racing ?

  32. The 380 has many virtues, but (regardless of the pandemic), on a relative basis, its environmental
    and economic credentials have always been terrible. It was built as a premium priced solution for airport congestion and to give airlines the space to create aspirational front of plane product.

    Flying 500-550 passengers on 4 engines obviously uses far more fuel and costs far more per pax than 350 passengers on 2 engines (777/ 350).

    And that assumes 100% load factors which relatively few 380s used to enjoy so the actual comparison has been even worse.

    @Richard.
    How many gay executions have there been in Qatar?

  33. The A380 is significantly less efficient per seat than the A350. Mostly due to the design being overweight but also the engines are a generation behind and the aerodynamics are poor due to a low aspect ratio and an oversized wing area.

    You only have to look at the raw figures to get an idea of the weight problem. Qatar’s A380s hold 517 passengers & MTOW is 575,000kgs which means the A380 has to propel 1112kgs of weight per passenger. Qatar’s A350-1000s hold 327 passengers & MTOW is 317,000kgs so it only has to propel 969kgs per passenger.

    Running 4 engines instead of two has nothing to do with it either. The 787-8 is pretty much bang on for having half the passenger capacity of the A380. Running two 787-8s meanings you’re running 4 engines but it’s still a lot cheaper than a single A380 (it’s weight per passenger is even less than A350 though is carrying less fuel per passenger at MTOW due to lower range)

    Another thing to note is that the A380’s underbelly cargo volume is very low. It’s actually less than a single A350. It can only hold 32 LD3 containers while the A350-1000 can take 44.

  34. Why not use only 2 engines of A380 while at its cruising height, depending upon the load?

  35. Yes, this from the company that is promoting ‘50hrs of private jet travel’ packages. In an era where people are concerned about the environment and are reconsidering private jet travel in favour of commercial services.

  36. Simply appealing to the left political wing. To the left, everything is about moral superiority.

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