SIA to proceed with A-380 retrofitting despite pandemic

Singapore Airlines pilots and cabin crew with the A-380 superjumbo at a delivery ceremony at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse, France, on Dec 13, 2017. The airline said it plans "to have all 12 remaining A-380s in our fleet fitted with the late
Singapore Airlines pilots and cabin crew with the A-380 superjumbo at a delivery ceremony at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse, France, on Dec 13, 2017. The airline said it plans "to have all 12 remaining A-380s in our fleet fitted with the latest A-380 cabin product".ST FILE PHOTO

Singapore Airlines (SIA) will proceed with plans to retrofit three more Airbus A-380 aircraft despite the 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.

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 last year 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 legroom 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.

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

He said: "There's no future for the A-380, but airlines that already have them have to find ways to make the 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2021, with the headline 'SIA to proceed with A-380 retrofitting despite pandemic'. Subscribe