Anyone who has paid attention to the airline industry since March will know that the A380 has not fared well this year. The superjumbo posed a challenge for airlines even before demand for air travel took a massive hit in March – because with so many seats to fill, it could be difficult to operate profitably. So when everyone stopped flying because of the pandemic, most airlines parked their A380s post-haste. Nowadays, some are back in the air. But where are A380s flying these days? We took a look at the Flightradar24 data to find out.

China Southern Guangzhou Chengdu China A380 where are A380s flying now

There aren’t many

At the beginning of the year the A380 was operating around 2400 flights a week worldwide. Most of those were Emirates A380s. If we remove the Emirates flights and look at the rest, there were around 1100 A380s flights a week worldwide. In February this had started to dip, but unsurprisingly it was late March that saw the most precipitous drop. By early April the A380 was down to just 82 total flights. The following week: 47. The low point was reached the week ending May 17 with 17 flights. None of these were regular passenger flights. Some were positioning flights for storage, while others were cargo-only or special repatriation runs. Nowadays the number of weekly flights continues to hover at a very low level between 80 and 103, but many more of those are regular passenger flights.

Total Weekly A380 flights

Emirates rules (of course)

Emirates has the largest fleet of A380s by far and whereas for other airlines the plane tends to fill a niche role, for Emirates it is more or less the main event. The airline has more 777-300ERs but given the added seats on the A380 the number of passengers it flies annually on both types is probably quite similar. So it’s no surprise that Emirates A380s were some of the first to return to the skies and the majority of A380 flights these days are operated by them. Roughly two-thirds of A380 passenger flights these days are Emirates flights – and sometimes more.

Weekly Flights Emirates vs Non-Emirates

Removing Emirates from the equation reveals how the pandemic draw down played out in other airlines.

Weekly A380 flights excluding Emirates

China Southern is quietly playing its part

Although Emirates bringing A380s back made most of the headlines, China Southern has been flying theirs as well. That’s especially interesting to note in light of recent economic data out of China that shows their economy saw growth of 4.9% in Q3, in stark contrast to much of the rest of the world. And the latest data from OAG shows airline seating capacity in China is only down 5.5% versus early January. In the week ending October 3, China Southern flew 25 segments with the A380. Compare that to 71 in the busiest week for Chinese A380s in January. They are the only other airline besides Emirates running passenger flights with A380s at this point.

Hi Fly A380 Kuala Lumpur Airbus superjumbo pandemic COVID-19
This Hifly A380 has been popping up here and there lately, but it’s not carrying any passengers.

Which cities are they flying to?

So where is the A380 making appearances these days? Dubai (DXB) obviously. And Guangzhou (CAN), home base for China Southern. Aside from that, you’ll find them mostly in London (LHR) and Paris (CDG). There are also appearances at Amsterdam, Moscow, Vancouver, Tokyo and Cairo. A Hi Fly A380 (9H-MIP) has been appearing here and there as well, but this aircraft has been reconfigured to fly cargo only. For example on September 24 it flew from Istanbul (IST) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL).

Some of these A380s likely won’t ever be back

Depending on how quickly the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control and at what pace the demand for air travel returns, we may see many airlines opt to mothball their A380s forever. That was likely coming in any case, and the pandemic will have simply sped up the process by a few years. Air France won’t be bringing their A380s back. Lufthansa is retiring some of theirs – and we’ll see about the rest. Many other airlines have plans to eventually bring theirs back, but these are far from certain. Qantas, Etihad and Qatar Airways come to mind as some that really haven’t made an official decision yet. Even British Airways, which still has A380s in its schedule a few months out, keeps pushing its return back.

Qantas A380 superjumbo pandemic coronavirus

Most passengers agree the A380 is fantastic for comfort. It’s also a magnificent machine to behold and to fly in, chunky looks and all. Here’s hoping as many as possible get to fly for a few more years yet.

Featured image © Olivier Landes

Gabriel Leigh grew up on long-haul flights and has been fascinated by airplanes since he can remember. Now based in Sweden, he writes about transport, travel and more for publications like The New York Times, Monocle and Forbes.


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