Singapore Airlines has flown its second Airbus A380 aircraft out of the Australian desert storage facility in Alice Springs Airport, following a well rehearsed routine by flying for maintenance checks at the Qantas hangar in Sydney on 29th July 2021.
The aircraft then departed on its second leg bound for Singapore, arriving home at around 6pm this evening (30th July 2021), the first time it has been seen back at Changi since leaving for storage in Australia over 15 months ago, on 26th April 2020.
Another A380, 9V-SKQ, was returned to Singapore via maintenance in Sydney back in February 2021, though that aircraft is now undergoing cabin refit work with the latest 2017 on-board products, which will be fitted to all 12 of the operator’s future proposed superjumbo fleet.
Why fly via Sydney?
Before an Airbus A380 operates revenue flights again following a long period of storage, correct operation of the landing gear must be verified.
This is usually done in the hangar, with the aircraft mounted on jacks, literally lifted off the floor, then engineers check that the gear still retracts and extends correctly (known as a ‘gear swing’).
Here’s how the process looks on an Airbus A330.
This cannot be done at Alice Springs and unfortunately the Airbus A380 does not have sufficient range to fly all the way to Singapore with its gear down, so SIA flies it to the only A380-capable facility in Australia – Qantas Hangar 96 at Sydney Airport – to have the checks done there.
That’s exactly what happed to 9V-SKQ in February and 9V-SKW this week, and the remaining Airbus A380s stored in Alice Springs will no doubt be returned to Changi the same way in the months ahead.
New cabin products
The difference this time is that unlike 9V-SKQ, 9V-SKW is already a Version 3 aircraft since delivery in 2018. It therefore requires no cabin refit work, being one of the youngest superjumbos in the airline’s fleet at just four years old.
That suggests the airline may potentially be preparing to reintroduce some Airbus A380s into passenger service, as Singapore’s borders progressively open from September this year.
Where are SIA’s A380s now?
The arrival of 9V-SKW means we have the highest number of Airbus A380s in Singapore since seven of the aircraft were progressively moved to Alice Springs for storage during 2020.
This will give the airline a fleet of seven Version 3 Airbus A380s at Changi Airport, once the refit of 9V-SKQ is completed.
Singapore Airlines A380 Fleet
(30 Jul 2021)
The seven Version 3 aircraft at Changi have all been flying relatively recently, including 9V-SKU which just flew today, as shown in the following table.
Singapore Airlines A380 V3 Fleet
|Aircraft||Last flight / air test||Days ago|
|9V-SKM||9 Jul 2021||21|
|9V-SKN||18 Jun 2021||42|
|9V-SKQ||25 Feb 2021
(cabin refit in progress)
|9V-SKS||25 May 2021||66|
|9V-SKU||30 Jul 2021||0|
|9V-SKV||4 Jun 2021||56|
|9V-SKW||30 Jul 2021||0|
Meanwhile the older Version 1 and Version 2 aircraft still in Singapore have not been flown at all since last year; only these V3 aircraft are being kept ‘ticking over’.
9V-SKQ’s refit should be coming to a conclusion in the coming weeks, based on the time previous refits took, leaving only two A380s still to receive the new cabins (we suspect these are 9V-SKP and 9V-SKR).
Are the A380s coming back into service?
It will likely be a while before we see all 12 Singapore Airlines Airbus A380s back in regular service. The aircraft has a high capacity for 471 passengers, but relatively small underfloor cargo holds, accommodating only around the same total freight as an Airbus A350-900 can carry.
The operating economics have therefore not been conducive to flying these huge aircraft since the pandemic took hold (though two were temporarily converted into restaurants in October 2020!).
Could the aircraft’s return on some services be on the cards through, with borders (including Singapore’s) gradually relaxing their restrictions in the months ahead?
We asked SIA if this possibility was in the works and the following response was provided:
It’s a sort of half yes (we’ll put the capacity there if demand is there) and half no (this is for planned maintenance, nothing to see here!) answer.
Nonetheless we’ve heard reports that Europe flights are getting much busier, with residents there able to travel and transit at Changi to and from places like Phuket and the Maldives, in addition to the other regular essential, repatriation and student traffic.
According to GDS seat maps, over 170 passengers are heading from Singapore to London tonight on SQ322, with 128 in the other direction on SQ317 tomorrow.
Granted these aren’t A380 numbers, but they are a big shift from total loads in the teens and twenties we were seeing a year ago.
If European countries start to get the quarantine-free green light from Singapore in the months ahead, there could be a very solid case for bringing some Airbus A380s back on selected routes.
There are some other considerations likely to help the equation for such a decision too:
- Costs to bring the A380s back into service will increase the longer they are stored, especially for those resting in the humid conditions at Changi.
- Airbus A380 pilots are mostly keeping up with their takeoffs and landings in expensive full-motion flight simulators. This practice could be reduced or eradicated if sufficient regular flights were operating.
SIA wouldn’t be the only airline bringing back its A380s. China Southern Airlines is operating its superjumbos on domestic flights, like Beijing to Guangzhou, and Emirates is now flying its A380s on regular services to cities like London, Paris, New York and Madrid.
Where could the A380s fly?
Bringing back some A380s will solve some of the issues identified above for SIA, but it will almost certainly also be linked to border openings.
As we already identified earlier this week, Germany is a strong candidate for a quarantine-free link with Singapore for vaccinated travellers from September 2021.
Ramping up Munich flights back to daily operation (from three times weekly) and Frankfurt flights to 14 per week (from 10 per week), their pre-COVID-19 levels, would be a logical step, but the Airbus A350 Long Haul fleet is already stretched.
The A380s could certainly step in here, probably to Frankfurt, also allowing SIA to showcase its top cabin products again.
London is also an obvious target for SIA’s superjumbos, though it may take a while longer for the UK to pick up quarantine-free status for those fully vaccinated arriving into Changi.
Obviously there is no point in Singapore Airlines flying Airbus A380s to and from Australia for the time being, while strict arrival caps and departure restrictions remain in force for residents there.
For the time being, SIA’s Airbus A380s reappear in the northern winter flight schedule from November 2021, however the published schedule has only been confirmed through 31st October 2021 at this stage, with routes and aircraft types in operation after that subject to change closer to the time.
Singapore Airlines will soon have a seven-strong fleet of Airbus A380s in Singapore with the latest cabin products, allowing the carrier to react quickly if progressive quarantine-free border openings cause a spike in demand.
That’s not too unlikely if only a handful of travel options are available.
For example, we expect Germany might be the only country in Europe with full quarantine-free privileges for returning Singapore residents, which could funnel pent-up travel demand from a large group who don’t necessarily want to go there – but just want to go anywhere.
It would also be a show of strength for the airline’s recovery to be restarting services with its flagship aircraft, more than 16 months after the superjumbo fleet was grounded, including the latest cabin products like the 2017 Suites and Business Class cabins.
No promises – but watch this space!
(Cover Photo: Adrian Pingstone)