Let’s just say that didn’t go according to plan.
By the time COVID-19 shut down global air travel in March 2020, just two A380s had completed their refits. One additional refit was completed in June that year, another in November, and then SIA moved the goalposts by retiring seven aircraft, cutting the A380 fleet from 19 to 12.
That left just three A380s to be refit, but due to pandemic-related delays, it’s only now that 9V-SKP, the final superjumbo to go under the knife, has emerged from its hangar and conducted a test flight.
It remains to be seen when exactly this aircraft re-enters active service, but it’s a landmark moment nonetheless.
Singapore Airlines finishes A380 refit programme
With 9V-SKP’s emergence, all 12 of SIA’s A380s now have its latest 2017 Suites, Business and Economy Class seats, as well as the Premium Economy seat that was introduced in 2015.
These either came factory-fitted (five aircraft), or were retrofitted to older A380s received in the first wave of deliveries (seven aircraft).
|✈️ Singapore Airlines A380 Fleet
|Came pre-installed with 2017 cabin products
While the return of 9V-SKP will no doubt be welcome, it’s still not going to return SIA to pre-pandemic levels. Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation provides the following colour:
This winter, the number of A380 flights for SIA at a bit more than 60% of pre-pandemic levels, based on OAG schedule data. This is in line with restoring 63% (12 of 19) of the fleet.
The total number of seats offered on A380 flights is a bit higher, at about 70% of pre-pandemic levels, due to the higher seat count following the retrofit. Keep in mind that in the Singapore market specifically, the number of A380 flights and number of A380 seats has a slightly higher recovery rate, due to the fact the A380 is no longer used on any fifth freedom routes (prior to the pandemic on Frankfurt-New York JFK and Tokyo Narita-Los Angeles).
Therefore, the impact in the Singapore market is a bit less, but still very significant. As I’ve stated before, the fact these seven “missing” A380s (or eight as of this month given the active fleet is currently at 11) is one of the main reasons why Changi is now struggling and could struggle for quite a while with that “last mile” – going from 90% to 100% of pre-pandemic traffic.
Should SIA have kept more A380s around?
It’s no secret that Singapore Airlines is facing something of a capacity crunch at the moment, not just due to the smaller A380 fleet, but continued delays to the B777X programme.
In light of this, I’ve read some armchair pundits criticising the decision to downsize the A380 fleet during the pandemic, but like all things, it’s not that simple. Here’s Brendan Sobie again:
It’s easy to say SIA in hindsight should have kept more A380s. Hindsight is everything and of course more A380s would have not only been nice from a capacity perspective but would have brought the per aircraft retrofit costs to a more reasonable level.
This retrofit project was extremely expensive and the decision to retrofit only seven instead of 14 means it’s even more costly due to the one-off costs being spread across fewer aircraft and the costs associated with cancelling seven retrofits, including all the kit that goes with it.
However, at the time of the decision to cancel seven of the 14 retrofits no one would have fathomed how quickly the market would recover from a demand perspective and all the supply issues (including new aircraft delivery delays).
By the time it was clear SIA could use more capacity – including more A380 capacity – it would have been extremely costly to bring back any additional aircraft. And while having more A380s would make sense now this would be a long term commitment given the retrofit costs and you need to be confident all the aircraft can be profitably deployed for several years.
Therefore, SIA quickly ruled out last year any possibility of bringing back any additional A380s.
In the dark days of late 2020, I don’t think anyone would have envisioned travel demand rebounding so quickly and ferociously. Moreover, the timeline for B777X deliveries had not slipped so drastically yet. Remember, in July 2020 Boeing was still talking about the B777X flying by 2022-23. As things stand, SIA won’t see any aircraft until 2025 at the earliest, more likely 2026!
All this means the capacity crunch will simply not be resolved in the near term.
Where are the A380s flying?
SIA resumed post-COVID A380 operations on the London route in November 2021, providing some much-needed VTL capacity. This was followed progressively by other cities like Sydney, Frankfurt and New York.
For the 2023/24 Northern Winter season (which runs from 29 October 2023 to 30 March 2024), SIA is flying its A380s to the following destinations:
- Auckland (SQ285/286)
- Delhi (SQ406/403)
- Hong Kong (SQ892/893)
- London (SQ308/319, 322/317)
- Mumbai (SQ424/423)
- Shanghai (SQ830/833)
- Sydney (SQ231/232, 221/222)
- Tokyo Narita (SQ638/637)
Unfortunately, the fact that SIA is operating just 12 of its original 19 A380s means it’s simply not possible to bring back all pre-pandemic A380 destinations.
Pre-pandemic A380 destinations which are absent from the Northern Winter season include Beijing, Melbourne, Frankfurt (though the A380 will be restored from 31 March 2024 at the expense of Tokyo Narita) New York JFK (which won’t get the A380 back along with Frankfurt because the aircraft is being deployed on SQ326/325, not SQ26/25), and Zurich.
What cabin products can you expect on the A380?
The A380 is the only aircraft that features Singapore Airlines’ flagship Suites product, with six suites in a 1-1 configuration.
Be careful though, because not all suites are made equal- Row 1 is the largest, followed by Rows 2 and 3.
Suites 1A and 2A & Suites 1F and 2F can be converted into a single “mega-suite”, complete with double bed. These will be the seats you absolutely want to snap up straight away, if you’re traveling with a companion.
Other fun features include two oversized bathrooms, complete with dressing table and enough space to do jumping jacks inside.
For a full review of the A380 Suites experience, refer to the post below.
Business Class features 78 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. What’s surprising is that when refitting the A380s, Singapore Airlines increased the density of Business Class by 18%, and yet the cabin still feels very private thanks to the high walls and cocoon design.
Solo travellers will prefer the A/K seats at the side of the cabin, although do note the shell of the seat blocks the closest window. You’ll need to lean rather far forward to see what’s going on outside.
The D/F seats in the centre are better for couples, more so than any other SIA aircraft because the privacy divider can be lowered to facilitate conversation and there’s no privacy wing wrapped around your head, so you can turn and see your partner.
It’s even better for the Row 11, 91 and 96 seats, where the divider goes all the way to the bottom and the seats can be turned into a double bed- though truth be told only the top half of your bodies will be together (and we all know the bottom half is where all the fun happens…).
For a full review of the A380 Business Class experience, refer to the post below.
Premium Economy features 44 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. This is the same seat that debuted on the B777-300ER back in 2015, though the one on the A380 is ever-so-slightly wider.
Passengers enjoy a calf rest and footrest, two USB ports and a personal power supply, plus a fully adjustable personal reading light. Oh, there’s champagne too!
Economy Class features a total of 343 seats in a 3-4-3 configuration, with the exception of rows 41 and 70, which feature a pair of seats on each side.
These are the latest 2017 Economy Class seats, featuring a six-way adjustable headrest with foldable wings, a contemporary fabric seat cover, and a 11.1-inch touch-screen monitor with a hidden reading light installed on the bottom.
One interesting quirk you might notice about the layout on the refitted A380: Seat 62D is missing, because that’s where the emergency escape hatch for the crew rest area goes.
|A380 v2 (refitted)
That means the passenger in 63D gets extra legroom (see a photo here).
Even though it’s highlighted as an extra legroom seat on the seat map, in practice it can be selected for free even before online check-in opens. That’s probably because Singapore Airlines can’t be certain as to which version of the A380 will be assigned to a particular flight, so charging for this seat would be problematic.
At long last, Singapore Airlines has finished its Airbus A380 refit programme. A total of seven aircraft were refit over a six-year period, and while COVID is surely to blame for some of the delays, one hopes that the refit of the next-generation cabin products, whenever they arrive, will be done a lot faster.
Sadly, with the A380 fleet reduced by more than a third compared to pre-COVID days, opportunities to fly the superjumbo will be fewer than before. These aircraft won’t stick around forever, which is all the more reason to try Suites while you still can!