China Southern Airlines is retiring its fleet of five Airbus A380s. The airline has not formally announced the move but was discovered by aviation enthusiasts tracking the airline’s aircraft towards Victorville in California, a well-known storage facility.

The airline’s first A380, registered B-6136, took off at 12:10 from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, followed moments later by B-6137,  its second. The airline is expected to retire the remaining three by the end of the year.

China Southern is the world’s sixth-largest airline by passengers carried, but it nonetheless struggled to find a route profitable enough to fly the wide-body aircraft.

Airline’s strained relationship with A380

The airline’s relationship with the mighty aircraft had been strained since its initiation. It had hoped to use the plane to service the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but was prevented from doing so by manufacturing delays. Further delays prevented it from being used at the 2010 Asian Games as well.

Domestic flights began to be served by the aircraft before it was slowly introduced on international routes to Sydney, Amsterdam and Los Angeles. In a stroke of misfortune, the super jet had just started to turn a profit for the airline, but it was quickly brought to an end by the COVID-19 pandemic, plunging the airline into a desperate financial position, with losses of over $20 billion two years later.

Lack of ceremony disappointing

The lack of ceremony was said to be a disappointment to the local aviation community, moved by the withdrawal of the world’s largest commercial airliner from China’s skies. Aviation enthusiasts are reported to have gathered to bid farewell to the aircraft, from the same spot they greeted them arriving from France just over a decade earlier.

Air France A380
Air France retired its A380 fleet in 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic | © Jakkrit Prasertwit

Airbus production of the A380 came to an end last year, and China Southern’s decision follows similar moves by other major carriers, including Air France, while aircraft lessor Hi Fly converted its only A380 to a freighter in the wake of the pandemic. How soon other carriers decide it’s time to retire their own A380s is still to be seen.

Has the aviation industry fallen out of love with the A380? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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