The first Airbus SE superjumbo to exit service will be stored minus its engines at a French airfield next week as its owner seeks a new operator for a plane that while still relatively young in industry terms has fallen out of favor with airlines.
The A380 will be returned to leasing firm Dr. Peters after 10 years of service with Singapore Airlines, the model's first customer. With Airbus struggling to win orders for the double-decker and no second-hand market established, the aircraft will be parked at Tarbes in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.
The A380 is the third built – the first two being test planes – and made the initial commercial flight by a superjumbo, between Singapore and Sydney on Oct. 25, 2007. The jetliner's last passenger trip was to the city state from London on June 10, after which it was grounded for decommissioning. By comparison, Boeing Co. 747-400 planes operated by British Airways typically date from 1990, according to the Ascend Worldwide database, with some slated to remain in service until 2024.
Dr. Peters, which owns four Singapore A380s, told Bloomberg that talks with potential new users of the plane continue and that it remains optimistic about agreeing to a deal. At the same time, the jet's engines will be removed and returned to their manufacturer Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc for rental to other operators in a move that could buy the aircraft time or prove a prelude to its scrapping.
Storing an A380 with no new operator in sight represents a setback for Airbus as it seeks to save the program through the sale of about 20 new planes to Emirates, the largest operator of the model. That deal could come next week at the Dubai Air Show and would help shore up build rates that have been repeatedly cut as orders dry up.
Airbus struck a blank on selling new A380s last year and has offered to revamp the model with fuel-saving winglets and 80 extra seats on top of the standard 550 to improve its appeal.
Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyreenees airport, located 75 miles from Airbus's Toulouse headquarters in southwest France, is a popular parking site for jetliners. Tarmac Aerosave, Europe's biggest aircraft storage company, says it can accommodate 25 planes there and hundreds more at Teruel, Spain.
The second aircraft due for return is also grounded at Singapore Changi airport where, like the first, it will be repainted white before heading to France.
Rolls-Royce has a deal covering all four of the Dr. Peters planes which can be extended into 2019, going some way to ease the pressure to strike an immediate deal with a new operator. The Trent 900 powerplants will be fitted to A380s whose own engines need to be removed for maintenance, said Ulrike Germann, a spokesman for the lessor.
Under the terms of their lease to Singapore Air, the aircraft must be returned in "full life" condition, meaning that interiors, engines and other elements must be as new or the carrier faces a penalty of $25 million per plane. The existing cabins will remain in place but are being refurbished, Dr. Peters said.
The German firm has said previously that its A380s – which had an original list price of about $250 million – could be broken up or "parted out" to recover engines and other spares worth at least $100 million per plane. At the same time, it has said that talks have been held with six potential operators of the jets, including an Asian low-cost airline that would fly them in a 700-seat single-class layout, as well as carriers in the U.S. and Europe.
Some parties are also discussing short leases of two to four years in order to assess the utility of operating A380s, Dr. Peters has said. In conjunction with Airbus and Doric, it also engaged Sparfell & Partner to seek potential VIP customers, with the Swiss reseller advertising them as Air Force One-style "head of state" transports on its website.
Malaysia Airlines Bhd. is planning to use its six A380s, now deemed surplus to requirements, to form a fleet dedicated to transporting Muslim travelers on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Amedeo has also yet to find operators for 20 superjumbos it has agreed to buy.