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The dead fly longer - the comeback of the A380

The giant Airbus A380 was considered a discontinued model during the pandemic. But soon the world's largest airliner will return to scheduled service with Lufthansa and other airlines. Some passengers even accept detours just to fly with it. The observation decks at Hanover, Dresden and Leipzig/Halle airports are likely to be busy in May: "We will then be conducting 60 training flights with the A380 for newly trained pilots there, and a lot of people will be watching," Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty expects.

It is a small sensation for aircraft fans and passengers: the giant Airbus, which had already been written off and decommissioned by many airlines in the wake of the Corona pandemic, will soon return to scheduled service with Lufthansa, but also with other airlines. While in the spring of 2020 only about 20 A380s were still ready to fly worldwide, at the beginning of February, according to aviation analyst Cirium, more than half of all Airbus giants worldwide were again in scheduled service with 132 aircraft, and the trend is rising.

The revival of the world's largest airliner - Emirates operates versions with 615 seats - is pleasing many travellers: No other jet has fascinated passengers to such an extent and even makes them accept detours just to fly with it. In the double-decker, the two cabin decks offer more space than in other aircraft, and it is much quieter on board. Depending on the airline, premium passengers can even enjoy showers, lounges and bars that are only available on board the A380.

For the turnaround, "several miracles came together," explains Lufthansa spokesman Lamberty: "The rocketing passenger demand and extreme delivery delays at Boeing." This applies not only to Germany's largest airline, but to the entire industry. The US manufacturer should have long since delivered the largest new commercial aircraft currently in production, the Boeing 777-9, also to Lufthansa, but now it will not be until 2025. So there was virtually no choice but to reactivate the A380, because the airlines need more capacity quickly. Another reason for the unexpected A380 upswing: the value of used aircraft has fallen sharply, so that a return to service is more profitable for many airlines than a sale. The fact that A380 production has been discontinued has also contributed to the decline in value; at the end of 2021, Airbus will have delivered the 251st and last aircraft ever built to Emirates.

Before the pandemic, the giant Airbus was in service with 16 airlines. Only Emirates, which operates the largest fleet with 118 examples, would have continued to fly the A380 for a few more years, as would Singapore Airlines, the first A380 operator since 2007, and also British Airways, which reactivated its giants after only a short mothballing period.

Lufthansa is different. Group CEO Carsten Spohr was still very certain just 15 months ago: "No, of course the A380 is not coming back," he announced in autumn 2021. The crane line once owned 14 of them, six have already been sold, the remaining eight have been stewing in the sun of the Spanish semi-desert on a parking lot since spring 2020. "At least three" of them are now coming back, Lufthansa says. The first A380 was already picked up from Spain at the beginning of December and flew from Frankfurt to Manila at the end of January, where it is "being made ready for take-off again as a regular passenger aircraft for the summer", as the airline confirmed on Twitter.

Two more aircraft will follow by March. Passenger flights with it, however, will not start until the peak season in June. Lufthansa will probably operate its A380 to New York, Boston and Los Angeles, a spokesman confirmed.

On board, everything will appear unchanged at Lufthansa compared to the last A380 flights in 2020; the airline is not changing the cabin interior. This is happening elsewhere - Emirates, for example, which currently has 84 A380s in the air, is currently subjecting its double-decker aircraft to what it calls the largest cabin renewal programme in aviation history.

All A380s will be refurbished on both decks, and for the first time 56 premium economy seats upholstered in cream leather from German manufacturer Recaro will be on board. For each aircraft, 1000 working hours are to be completed in 16 days.

Singapore Airlines and Qantas are currently bringing the last of their widebody jets back into service up to the latest comfort standards and completing cabin refit programmes that were interrupted during the pandemic. The Singaporeans are now using the latest first-class suite on all A380s.

Awakening such a giant aircraft from its slumber is a gargantuan task. Although the parked jets are regularly maintained and moved even during the parking period, a lot of effort is needed to make them fit and safe for everyday flying again.

At Lufthansa, it is estimated that 2,500 working hours are needed just to transfer an A380 parked in Spain back to Frankfurt, from where it is brought to Manila after a few weeks of maintenance. There, the final overhaul takes place, which lasts another one to two months. At Qantas, too, the effort is enormous. "Waking up an A380 takes two months and 4500 man hours of ten engineers replacing everything on board, from 22 wheels and all 16 brakes to the fire extinguishers," airline boss Alan Joyce told the Australian magazine Executive Traveller, "once the planes are back from the desert, another hundred days of overhaul follow."

The latest A380 operator to surprisingly revive its decommissioned flagship is Etihad. The airline from the United Arab Emirates is reactivating four of its ten A380s for the route from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow from 15 July. This is particularly pleasing for premium customers, because no other airline offers such a luxurious interior on board - including "The Residence", a kind of private flat above the clouds for two with their own bedroom and bathroom with shower.

As before the pandemic, the largest A380 hubs are again Dubai (as Emirates' main airport) and London Heathrow. Six airlines come to the Thames with the giants, and the airport expects up to 22 A380 take-offs a day in high summer.

In Frankfurt/Main, on the other hand, the A380 is only sparsely represented - Emirates flies it daily to Dubai (also from Düsseldorf and Munich), while Singapore Airlines replaces its A380 on the Singapore-Frankfurt-New York route with a Boeing 777 after 14 May. "Since we only have twelve A380s in our fleet and the demand for Australia is rated even higher, the A380 will be used increasingly to Sydney and Melbourne from mid-May," says Peter Tomasch, spokesman for the airline, explaining the withdrawal from Germany.

After all, the Korean Asiana is planning to fly to the Rhine-Main Airport again from Seoul with the double-decker from summer onwards. Lufthansa, on the other hand, will launch its flights with the reawakened giants exclusively from Munich.

Emirates currently offers the most extensive A380 route network worldwide with 40 destinations in 27 countries, followed by British Airways, which serves seven US cities plus Dubai and Johannesburg from London. Asiana, Korean Air and Qatar Airways all fly to Bangkok with the A380, among other destinations.

If you are planning a holiday in Thailand and are keen to fly the A380, you can fly with the Gulf airline from Germany to Doha and change there to the wide-body jet to Bangkok. Travellers to Australia have the choice between Qantas and Singapore Airlines. But there are also airlines that have finally and definitively said goodbye to the A380. Air France was the first, followed recently by Malaysia Airlines and China Southern Airlines. The situation is still uncertain at Thai Airways. The airline has mothballed six widebody jets and is considering the return of up to four of the aircraft. The dead fly longer.

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