Just over 12 years since Emirates began flying the mighty Airbus A380, the world’s largest operator of the superjumbo is now putting the oldest double-decker jets out to pasture.
There’s also no small irony that the very last A380 to be built by Airbus, which shuttered the $40 billion program last year, rolled off the production line last month – and is also bound for Dubai.
So as the world’s last A380s join the Emirates fleet, several of the first A380s are headed for retirement.
This week saw Emirates bid farewell to its second-longest serving superjumbo (registered as A6-EDB), which made a non-passenger ‘ferry flight’ to Tarbes in the south of France, home of leasing firm Tarmac Aerosave.
Given that there’s no market for second-hand Airbus A380s – especially not in the lean times of the pandemic era, when demand for travel has been gutted and struggling airlines are leaning towards smaller, more fuel-efficient jets – Tarmac could well dismantle and recycle this once-proud superjumbo.
Emirates has previously scrapped two ageing A380s for parts, while its very first A380 – which flew the inaugural Dubai-New York superjumbo service on August 1, 2008 – remains in storage at Dubai.
Almost all of Emirates’ 115 Airbus A380s remain grounded, although the airline is hoping a superjumbo surge in 2022 will return most of them to the skies.
How Emirates’ A380 changed travel
Emirates was only the second airline in the world to begin flying the Airbus A380, following prestigious launch customer Singapore Airlines by ten months and ahead of Qantas by two months.
Like Singapore Airlines’ superlative superjumbo, Emirates offered private first class suites with sliding doors.
But the Gulf carrier, eager to burnish its reputation of world-class luxury, added something nobody expected: two shower suites where first class flyers could freshen up before landing.
Admittedly, with only five minutes of hot water for each of the 14 first class passengers, you had to be quick – but with creature comforts like the heated floor and basket of top-shelf amenities, showering at 40,000 feet became The Thing to Do.
But it wasn’t only first class travellers who were in for some spoiling: at the rear of the A380’s upper deck business class cabin, Emirates added a cocktail bar and lounge.
This indulgence came at the expense of several rows of business class seats, and even Emirates President Sir Tim Clark had his doubts that the concept would be a success.
“I designed the bar at the back of the aircraft on the upper deck, on the understanding that if it didn’t work, we could remove it in 96 hours and put eight more business class seats in,” Clark told Executive Traveller last year.
Regular Emirates passengers may notice the presence of overhead lockers at the sides the bar of some of its A380s. These were deliberately left in place, to make that swap-out easier and faster if it became necessary.
Emirates’ original A380 bar kept the overhead luggage lockers in case it needed to be converted back to business class seating.
However, the bar quickly became a hit with passengers – so future A380s were delivered without the lockers to create a more spacious environment.
“We didn’t actually think that many people were going to use (the bar), but how wrong we were!” said Clark, who happily adds that on his own A380 flights “there seems to be a highly convivial atmosphere down there.”
The inflight bar quickly became a signature touch of Emirates, and in 2017 was redesigned with a more refined colour scheme and expanded cafe-style seating.
Prior to COVID-19, Emirates was already working on a third-generation inflight lounge with even more seating plus AC and USB power outlets to create an alternative working space on board.
(Emirates is also developing new A380-inspired “social areas” for its Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 jets, which are set to arrive from 2023.)
But long before the A380 bows out, it could be used to launch Emirates’ all-new premium economy seating – the first time the Gulf powerhouse has ventured into the ‘comfort chasm’ between economy and business class.
Emirates already has Airbus A380s fitted with a premium economy cabin ready and “waiting to go” says Clark, who has previously described the seat to Executive Traveller as a railway-style “sleeperette”.
Clark says the design will fully cradle the legs and feet in “something like lazy-Z” configuration with a 10-inch recline, rather than going fully flat – a trait which will remain the exclusive domain of business and first class.
“It’s probably where business class used to be, and in some cases where first used to be in the old days, 30 years ago,” Clark reflects.
Emirates’ premium economy passengers can expect more legroom, with around 38 inches of pitch – up to 6 inches more than economy – while the seat itself will be wider than its economy counterparts and sport a larger inflight video screen.