(CNN) — Popular with air travelers but expensive to operate at the best of times, the gigantic Airbus A380 passenger plane could be one of the first major airplane casualties of the coronavirus.
And, with numerous airlines said to be teetering on the brink of collapse, no one knows for sure whether they will ever return.
The mammoth double-decker craft has capacity for 853 passengers, although a typical seating arrangement means it usually carries 525.
According to an internal memo seen by aero.de, this month Lufthansa’s A380s had a load factor of just 35%, meaning the planes were going out with an average of just 180 passengers on board.
“Simple answer is that they are too big for current needs,” John Grant of AG Aviation Consultants tells CNN Travel.
“If airlines are going to maintain any schedules they need to match capacity to demand; that means in many cases smaller aircraft types and — as we are seeing — large frequency reductions.
“The A380 doesn’t fit that bill, especially when many airline operators require large proportions of transfer traffic from other countries. With countries being locked down it just does not make commercial sense, despite the cost of fuel currently being so low.”
Lufthansa’s fleet, which previously flew routes from Germany to Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, as well as other destinations around the world, is currently parked up at its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.
Lufthansa aircraft pictured parked up at Frankfurt Airport on March 15.
Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance via Getty Images
The German carrier announced March 6 that it plans to reduce its flight program by up to 50% to deal with the financial consequences of the slump in demand.
Meanwhile, Sydney-based consultancy CAPA Centre for Aviation warned Monday that, without government assistance, most airlines worldwide will face bankruptcy by the end of May.
Expiry date looming
Australian flag carrier Qantas announced March 10 that it is grounding its eight of its 12 Airbus A380s until mid-September. With two of is A380s undergoing scheduled maintenance, there are just two left flying.
The airline says it’s reducing capacity by almost a quarter for the next six months, and is using smaller planes and reducing frequency of flights to maintain overall connectivity.
With an expiry date already looming for the A380, there’s no guarantee that those grounded behemoths will ever take to the skies again.
World’s biggest fleet of A380s
With a fleet of 115, Emirates is the biggest customer of the Airbus A380 and has eight of the craft still on order.
Opportunities may be fewer to fly in an A380, but it’s becoming a lot easier to buy one.
Valerie Bershova, valuations analyst at Ascend by Cirium, recently estimated that the market value of an A380 now ranges between $77 million for a 2005-build “half-life” aircraft and $276 million for a new 2019-build aircraft in “full-life” condition.