We're in for the really long haul – Airbus drama spells delays

Grounding so many aircraft means chaos for the schedules, says Simon Calder

The plans of thousands of long-haul travellers are still up in the air, nine days after an engine on a Qantas Airbus A380 from London to Sydney caught fire and broke up shortly after taking off from Singapore.

Within hours of the incident, the Australian airline grounded its entire fleet of six "superjumbo" aircraft, the largest in the world. The A380s are normally deployed on its flagship route, from Sydney and Melbourne to London and Los Angeles, and carry upwards of 20,000 passengers each week.

While travel industry figures in the UK have been complimentary at the way the Australian carrier has dealt with the repercussions of the grounding, one senior executive said a prolonged delay could "wreak havoc" on Christmas and New Year schedules. Qantas is making no promises about when its A380 fleet will be cleared for take-off, after several earlier forecasts proved wrong.

Information obtained by The Independent from the airline's reservations system shows that all flights due to be operated by the A380 for the next two weeks have been replaced by smaller and older Boeing 747 jumbo jets, with around 100 fewer seats.

Qantas has transferred some of the passengers booked to travel with them to other airlines, and chartered capacity from British Airways to take passengers from Heathrow to Hong Kong and Singapore.

To cope with the absence of its largest aircraft, Qantas has come up with a complex "cascade" plan – downsizing aircraft across a range of routes. Links from London and Los Angeles are being served by smaller Boeing 747s, some of them normally deployed on services from Sydney to Tokyo and Hong Kong. These jumbos have in turn been replaced by Airbus A330s, taken from routes such as Perth to Singapore – whose passengers will find themselves flying on some of Qantas's older Boeing 767 jets.

A statement from the airline said "While Qantas is committed to bringing its A380s back into service as soon as possible, this contingency schedule has been designed to provide certainty for customers planning to travel in the near future."

Qantas has also issued an opaque statement saying that "engineers have been investigating the engines in detail and how their components and design perform under operational conditions – as opposed to the original out-of-factory expectations".

The re-introduction, when it happens, could be protracted, according to David Learmont, operations and safety editor of Flight Global publications: "They'll get the airplanes airborne one by one – they won't suddenly say the fleet is clear, they will clear them as they're ready."

As the Qantas grounding continues, fares on some routes have increased – particularly across the Pacific. Short-notice flights in economy class between Australia and California are being sold at well over £1,000 each way. From the UK, fares over the next two weeks on Qantas and its alliance partner, British Airways, are £100 higher than usual.

The potential financial damage to Qantas goes beyond the immediate costs associated with the incident and its aftermath. The airline spent hundreds of millions of dollars on fitting out its A380s to offer the highest standards – way ahead of those offered aboard the substitute Boeing 747 aircraft. In addition, there is always a risk in transferring passengers to rivals that the customers may not come back if they find the alternative carriers to their liking.

Routes already affected

The Qantas grounding of the A380 has had some intriguing repercussions for passengers, particularly business travellers booking at short notice or backpackers on round-the-world trips who want to change their flight dates.

Heathrow-Singapore

The Qantas Airbus A380 used on this link has been replaced by a Qantas Boeing 747. Travellers who insist on the "super-jumbo" may switch to Singapore Airlines, which is still operating A380s on the route, but this could prove expensive.

Singapore-Sydney

Passengers booking short-notice trips on Qantas are likely to find the only available seats involve a change of plane in another Australian city, such as Adelaide or Brisbane. The alternative is to fly non-stop on British Airways or Singapore Airlines, which are using Boeing 747s and 777s, but seats on these airlines are selling at a premium.

Singapore-Melbourne

Qantas customers anxious to get from Singapore to Melbourne are being offered a no-frills flight on the Qantas subsidiary, JetStar. It uses a narrow-bodied A320 and stops en route in Darwin, taking over four hours longer than the non-stop. Singapore Airlines is the alternative non-stop choice.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before