Will The 777X Replace The A380 At Qatar Airways?

Daniel Fowkes
30 Apr 2024
· Aircraft 
· Airlines 
· Analysis 
A Boeing 777X flying mid-air.

Qatar Airways is looking to offload its Airbus A380 sooner rather than later. So, can the upcoming Boeing 777X replace the world’s largest passenger plane?

The mission to replace the A380 at Qatar Airways has been a long one, starting at the beginning of 2019.

Qatar Airways A380 Retirement Plan

The Doha-based airline expressed its intent to retire the widebody, which was no longer economical. A retirement was likely to occur by the 10th anniversary of flying the series in 2024.

Akbar Al Baker, the now departed head of the airline spoke with Aviation Analyst and discussed his intent to remove the plane. Ultimately, transitoning to next-generation twin-engine aircraft was slated to have a better long-term effect on the company.

As part of the retirement plan to be fulfilled by 2024, the carrier intended to use the Boeing 777X as a replacement aircraft. The 777X, initially slated to enter service in 2020, is poised to solve many airlines’ capacity difficulties thanks to superjumbo retirements in the last five years.

However, despite a seemingly clear-cut plan, Qatar Airways’ pathway would be substantially skewed due to several factors beyond its control.

A Replacement Plan Collapses

Despite signalling its intent to retire the Airbus A380 by 2024 and replace it with the 777X, the airline’s plan would quickly spiral out of control.

While Boeing targeted a 2020 EIS for its 777X, it became increasingly apparent that the manufacturer would be unable to meet this target following GE9X issues, other MAX problems, and an internal crisis.

Factors such as the GE9X engine on the 777X significantly delayed certification. A thorough inspection and re-approval were required before testing could resume.

Additionally, the arrival of the global pandemic in 2020 would force Qatar Airways to rethink its day-to-day operations.

As part of the review, Qatar Airways grounded the A380 earlier than expected. Additionally, the company announced that it had no plan to return the aircraft to service even when demand eventually returned.

While demand had dropped considerably, Qatar Airways was still operating somewhat of a schedule. Flights focused on repatriating countries’ citizens; thus, capacity wasn’t the most significant priority.

In the early 2020s, legal battles aimed at Airbus over surface defects found on the A350 aircraft also occurred. As a result, Qatar Airways grounded units and suspended taking deliveries of the widebody. In addition to these decisions, the carrier also saw an impact on its A321neo order.

The Airbus A380 Returns

For a prolonged period during the global pandemic, Qatar Airways called the A380 its “biggest mistake.” However, Qatar was forced to decide on the aircraft as demand surged.

After deliberation, Qatar Airways announced plans to return the widebody to service, albeit reluctantly. This decision came especially following persistent difficulties in acquiring next-generation twin-engine aircraft such as the A350 or 777X on time. The global pandemic and subsequent conflict had decimated supply chains.

Away from supply chains, Boeing still could not get its 777X certified, with delays now stretching over five years. Qatar Airways needed the capacity, and reactivating a grounded aircraft type for the short term made the most sense.

As the aircraft returned to service, the decision was met with applause from the travelling public. The Airbus A380 has long been a champion for an enjoyable flying experience, with travellers sharing their preferences across forums and reviews.

The Airbus A380 remains a fan favourite. Its large, spacious interiors allow airlines to redefine upper-class experiences with apartments in first class, among other things.

But now, what’s next for the Airbus A380 with Qatar Airways?

What’s Next For The A380 At Qatar Airways?

According to Aviation Week and further developments, the Airbus A380s will remain in the fleet until at least 2025. However, depending on the company’s situation, this could extend further.

While past management disliked the widebody, it has proved essential in the airline’s ability to serve markets following the return of travel demand after the pandemic.

The retirement of the Airbus A380 seems also to be hinged on one critical business development: the delivery of the 777X.

Boeing’s 777X was initially slated to enter service in 2020, which is why Qatar Airways outlined its plan for fleet retirement in 2019. However, it’ll be certified in 2025 at the earliest. Following Boeing’s latest crisis, some are still sceptical, with Emirates President Tim Clark publicly casting doubts.

Even if approval can be granted in 2025, airline executives don’t expect the 777X to fly with passengers until 2026.

Qatar Airways’ long-term Airbus A380 retirement plan rests on the upcoming entry into service of the Boeing 777X. This EIS has been delayed significantly until 2025 – (Boeing Photo)

For Qatar Airways, this would see them come full circle to their 2019 plane, where they intend to remove the A380 and add the 777X. However, this plan looks to be put in motion once more, six years later, following one of the more turbulent periods in the industry.

Qatar Airways has also expressed public interest in acquiring up to 150 new aircraft, including further Boeing 777X jets, to boost long-term capacity.

To Conclude

The Airbus A380 is expensive to fly, and few airlines have been able to make it work. Qatar Airways has also highlighted factors such as maintenance costs, which has meant the situation has been far from favourable.

Jets like the 777X present a more modest alternative at a fraction of the cost while still having a more than adequate capacity. For the 777X, the biggest roadblock has been that certification.

Ultimately, Qatar Airways will consider the 777X a replacement for the A380, while the A350-1000 will boost capacity. It’s increasingly likely that a lot will depend on when the 777X can be delivered as to when the A380s will be retired.

Until then, the world’s largest passenger plane will stick around for a little longer.

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