Key Points:

  • China Southern Airlines, the only Chinese carrier to operate Airbus A380s, has retired its last two superjumbos, exiting the type completely.

  • The airline originally had a small fleet of five A380s, which primarily flew trans-Pacific routes to North America.

  • While some Asia-Pacific airlines like Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines have retired their A380s, others like Qantas and Singapore Airlines continue to operate the type.

China Southern Airlines Bids Farewell to Its Last Airbus A380s

BEIJING — China Southern Airlines, based in Guangzhou, has grounded its remaining two Airbus A380s, marking the termination of the A380's era in China after more than a decade. The announcement came as part of the airline's half-yearly financial report, where the decision to retire the last two of its A380s was confirmed for the first half of 2023.

The superjumbos, first acquired in 2011, primarily operated trans-Pacific flights to North America. In a change of scheduling strategy, the type eventually started to turn a profit for China Southern, after suffering from significant A380-related losses in its early years. The first A380 flight was made to Los Angeles in 2012, three years later than initially planned.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges facing China Southern's A380 operations. With China closing its international borders for nearly three years, the focus on the airline's A380 fleet intensified. In early 2021, a senior executive at China Southern disclosed that the company was reevaluating the future of its A380s, citing the uncertainty of international travel's recovery and the aircraft's high operating costs.

Speculation surrounding the airline's intent to phase out its A380s had begun as early as February 2022. Reports suggested that China Southern was contemplating disposing of its A380s by year-end, after enduring years of financial losses associated with the type. In contrast, during the onset of the pandemic, China Southern utilized the A380s for domestic repatriation flights and other high-demand routes.

The Airbus A380 has experienced a varied fate across the Asia-Pacific airlines in the post-pandemic landscape. Carriers like Thai Airways International and Malaysia Airlines have followed China Southern's footsteps and retired their A380 fleets. On the other hand, airlines like Qantas and Singapore Airlines continue to operate the aircraft, with Qantas even signaling plans to keep the type in service until approximately 2032.