SIA recalls an Airbus A-380 from Alice Springs as it goes ahead with retrofitting plans

Singapore Airlines had announced the new cabins as part of a planned US$850 million upgrade to its A-380 fleet. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) will proceed with plans to retrofit three more Airbus A-380 aircraft with newer cabin products despite the current Covid-19 pandemic.

The airline has moved one of its A-380s from the Alice Springs storage facility in Australia to Sydney.

The plane will undergo routine checks in the city before being moved back to Singapore for a scheduled retrofitting and maintenance programme, SIA said on Monday (Feb 22).

The carrier plans to retrofit two other A-380 planes by its 2022/2023 financial year.

SIA said: "The aircraft, registration 9V-SKQ, has been moved to Sydney to undergo routine checks following its storage before returning to Singapore where it will be retrofitted with the latest A-380 cabin product.

"This is part of our plan to have all 12 remaining A-380s in our fleet fitted with the latest A-380 cabin product."

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the airline had a fleet of 19 A-380s.

It grounded the fleet around March as the coronavirus outbreak rapidly worsened. Twelve of the planes were parked at Changi Airport and seven sent to long-term storage at Alice Springs.

The carrier had said in a business update last November that it would retire 26 planes deemed surplus to fleet requirements - including seven A-380s - after a review of the longer-term network.

Of the remaining 12 A-380s, four had been retrofitted. Five others had been delivered to SIA with the newer cabin configuration.

The carrier had announced the new cabins in 2017 as part of a planned US$850 million (S$1.12 billion) upgrade to its A-380 fleet.

The upgrade meant that the aircraft would be able to carry more economy and premium economy passengers while offering seats with more leg room and privacy.

But doubts had grown in the industry over the plane's future in recent years, with some carriers having trouble filling up enough seats on the plane to make it profitable.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which led to border restrictions that decimated air travel, further increased doubts about the aircraft's long term viability.

Aviation analyst Shukor Yusof from Endau Analytics said premium business travel, which A-380s cater to, is unlikely to return to the levels before the coronavirus outbreak.

"No airline needs an A-380 in the post-Covid environment because people have successfully done deals and conducted business over virtual platforms such as Zoom," he said.

"There's no future for the A-380, but airlines that already have them have to find ways to make best use of a very bad asset."

But Mr Mohshin Aziz, director of the Pangolin Aviation Recovery Fund, said SIA's decision to retrofit its remaining A-380 planes indicated a possible strategy to retain an exclusive product to differentiate itself from other airlines in the long term.

He added: "When you park a plane, there's still a lot of costs involved.

"If you are going to lose money anyway, you might as well spend some money to upgrade the plane so that when the market is ready, you have a good product."

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