AviationThe wide-bodied jets have been bought back to do a job – but for how long?

These are the aircraft surfing the post-pandemic boom

The quad jets are the most expensive to prepare for a return to service.
The quad jets are the most expensive to prepare for a return to service. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/kathijung

The Airbus A380 is soaring back into airline fleets – many expensively retrieved from mothballs during the Covid pandemic – to cope with surging passenger demand ahead of the delivery to airlines of the latest generation aircraft.

Latest research from AviationValues, which compiles data, including aircraft and fleet values, deals and transactions, has found that of all aircraft types being flown post-pandemic, the large four engine widebodies like the A380 and the Boeing 747 have struggled the most from a utilisation and value point of view.

As the impact of the pandemic on aviation eases, smaller aircraft have returned to the skies on domestic and regional routes, while the long-haul travel market served by wide-bodied jets has been stifled by lingering international border restrictions – most notably in China.

Latest IATA figures show total traffic in May 2023 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres) rose 39.1% compared to May 2022. Globally, traffic is now at 96.1% of May 2019 (pre-pandemic) levels. Domestic traffic, for the second month in a row, has exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Airlines which have reactivated at least part of their quad jet fleets include Air China; Asiana; All Nippon Airways; British Airways; the dominant A380 operator Emirates; Korean Air; the dominant 747 operator Lufthansa; Qantas; Qatar and Singapore Airlines.

As travel demand has bounced back from the pandemic, the quad jets face the additional hurdle of being the most expensive to prepare for a return to service. “This has meant they have lagged the recovery of smaller aircraft,” says AviationValues’ head of commercial analysts, Gary Crichlow.

“Traditionally reserved for the longest range and highest capacity routes, the wide-body quad jets have for decades seen a steady erosion of their market share in favour of higher frequency services operated by medium and large twinjets that can service long range routes more efficiently,” Crichlow added.

Additionally, the recovery in demand for passenger aircraft has been coupled with a constraint in supply of new deliveries, as well as available slots for maintenance due to supply chain issues.

AviationValues says the stars in sky are the new technology narrowbodies represented by the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737-800, aircraft that have exhibited “the highest resilience in terms of utilisation over the pandemic”, with new generation widebody twins such as the Airbus A350-900 and Boeing 777-300ER also having a strong impact.

These aircraft represent “a significant technological or fuel efficiency advance over the preceding generation of aircraft,” Crichlow said,  referring to the Airbus A320neo and Airbus 350-900. 

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