New Life Breathed into the Airbus A380 Program By… Iran Air?!

The Airbus A380 is a special plane for passengers, but has largely been a commercial failure. Airbus simply made the wrong bet on the future of air travel.

For passengers the larger plane has meant more amenities and more space — although it was supposed to mean more amenities for everyone, not just bars in business class and showers in first.

Singapore A380 Suites

Now Emirates has a version of the plane in service (flying to Bangkok, Copenhagen, Kuala Lumpur and Manchester) with 615 seats.

The question for an airline is whether a given route has as many passengers as an A380 can hold, where it’s economical to fly such a large aircraft. You need to fill an A380 for it to make sense. And that’s not something that works on most routes. The point of the 787 (and indeed the A350) is to bypass hubs and fly passengers between cities where they want to go directly, and earn a non-stop revenue premium doing so.

Conceptually it was supposed to fly hub-to-hub between heavily congested slot-controlled airports — London Heathrow to New York JFK, for instance. There are plenty of passengers, and airlines can reduce their number of flights, making it possible to serve more destinations.

However passengers still prefer – and pay for – greater frequencies on a route like that. And so there aren’t that many airlines making a business of flying that many passengers on a given flight. Which is why the Airbus A380 has been largely a failure and why Airbus has considered bringing the program to an end.

Still, as a passenger, I love the A380 or at least I love what some airlines have done with it like Emirates (showers!), Singapore (double beds in their middle section suites), and Qantas (the best way to fly between the US and Australia). Even as I don’t love all A380s (I’m talking to you, Air France).

Emirates A380 Shower

With only just over 300 planes ordered, they’re probably 100 orders away from breaking even on the project (although Airbus would say it’s no longer losing money). Airbus hadn’t had a single order that firmed between mid-2013 and the end of 2015. Only Emirates remains truly enthusiastic about the plane. The UAE-based carrier represents over 40% of Airbus’ order book for the superjumbo. Otherwise, the planes just aren’t selling.

Japan’s Skymark Airlines was scheduled to take the A380, but it went bankrupt. ANA won Airbus’ support as a creditor to take control of Skymark (really they just wanted Skymark’s slots at Tokyo Haneda) by agreeing to accept the Skymark A380s. ANA says they’ll operate the planes to Honolulu.

Now it looks like Airbus finally has a new customer for the aircraft: Iran Air.

Iran has struck a provisional deal with Europe’s Airbus (AIR.PA) to buy eight A-380 superjumbo planes to be delivered from 2019, the deputy transport minister told Reuters on Sunday.

A deal for 127, mainly new, aircraft which it hopes to complete this week also includes 16 A350 jets, Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan, deputy transport minister said in an interview on the sidelines of an aviation conference in Tehran.

It’s not an order yet, let alone a firm order. And it could just be a head fake, I’d bet it’s more likely that Airbus is putting Iran Air up to saying they’re ordering the planes but without a financial penalty for cancelling later and indeed a financial inducement for saying so. I will be genuinely surprised if Iran Air ever takes possession of new A380s.

But for now at least there’s another airline that looks to be adding the A380 into the pipeline. If it turns out to be real, I cannot wait to learn the configuration… and perhaps even to fly it!

An Emirates Airbus A380 lands in crosswinds in Dusseldorf:

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I believe that at least a small part of the deal will happen. Flush with cash from the recent lifting of international sanctions, Iran is looking to jumpstart their economy, so that investing in modernizing their antiquated commercial aviation does make sense. However, I am not sure that buying a bunch of A380s is the way to go…

  2. As an aside, back in the day when AA was in Terminal 1 in FRA I loved seeing Iranair the next counter over.

  3. “I will be genuinely surprised if Iran Air ever takes possession of new A380s.”

    There’s nothing in the quotes you pasted that specifically denotes they plan to purchase new A380s… Emirates is probably refreshing their fleet a bit, no? Might be a deal Airbus is facilitating in order to earn [what would almost certainly be] a larger A380/A380neo order from Emirates.

  4. @Justin let me revise, I will be genuinely surprised if Iran Air ever takes possession of A380s from Airbus. I could imagine a short term wet lease.

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