There were only 6 Airbus A380s airborne in the entire world yesterday

Apr 2, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic is doing strange things to commercial aviation. One of the most evident effects of the crisis is that airlines fly only a fraction of the flights they ran before the pandemic erupted — and that’s clear at a glance when looking at flight-tracker sites. On Wednesday morning, Flightradar24 showed that there were only six Airbus A380s airborne in the entire world. The biggest passenger jet ever made has almost disappeared from the skies.

Demand is just too small to justify flying it. Emirates, the biggest airline in the world by international passengers carried and also the largest operator of the Airbus jet, has grounded most of its flights and all of its A380s. That has dealt a major blow to current operations of the double-decker. The vast majority of the world’s A380s are parked pending a return of demand. The only ones airborne on Wednesday were with Qatar Airways, China Southern and Thai Airways.

Screen cap from Flightradar24

The Flightradar map showed Thai’s formerly daily flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok, now operating on a reduced frequency; Qatar’s ultra-long-haul from Sydney, Australia, to the airline’s home base in Doha; and the China Southern flight to Los Angeles, now operating just three times a week — probably near-empty, since most foreign citizens are no longer allowed into China. Those three flights were running under their normal scheduled flight numbers. The other flights, such as Qatar’s QR3456, bore the flight numbers in the thousands that often indicate non-scheduled or one-off operations.

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Things are not much better these days for the other double-decker giant, the Boeing 747. At a glance, there were a lot of 747s flying at the same time we checked the A380 flights. But that’s deceptive: Most of them were cargo flights operated by 747s configured as cargo-only carriers.

We counted only two passenger 747s airborne on Wednesday morning: British Airways Flight BA193 from London to Dallas-Fort Worth, a regularly scheduled service, and Air China Flight CA81 from Beijing to Milan. The latter might have been a flight transporting medical supplies, since CA81 is not a regularly scheduled service and the same flight number was used for a flight carrying aid supplies to Milan on 15 March, according to an Italian news site.

Screen cap from Flightradar24

The A380, an aeroplane known for its superlatives, will return in bigger numbers once the crisis passes, but not for long. With the assembly line winding down and just over 200 flying, it’s headed for an early demise, probably serving until the 2030s at the latest. The 747 has a brighter future, but as cargo carrier rather than a passenger aeroplane, like the Boeing 767 — another jet whose retirement has been accelerated by the coronavirus crisis.

Featured image by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

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