A380 finds new purpose: The world’s biggest passenger jet is now flying without most seats
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
The drop in demand for flights caused by the coronavirus has resulted in some unprecedented moves for the aviation industry. Airlines have consolidated flights across major metropolitan areas, added tag flights, retired large numbers of aircraft and even converted passenger planes into cargo jets. The latest aircraft to join in on offering a cargo-only version? The A380 superjumbo.
Portuguese charter operator Hi Fly has temporarily removed passenger seats from its sole A380 to make way for more cargo. It now offers over 300 cubic meters of capacity and can fly with nearly 60 tons of cargo. This makes it the first-ever A380 to have been modified into an “auxiliary freighter.”
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Hi Fly’s A380 had 471 seats across two levels. Like most other airlines temporarily reconfiguring their planes, Hi Fly only removed economy class seats as premium-cabin seats have more parts and are harder to disassemble/reinstall. Other interior elements like galleys and lavatories were also left intact for when the plane returns to normal operations.
The A380 wasn’t designed to be a freighter. Although it’s the world’s largest passenger aircraft, it doesn’t actually fit much freight for a widebody. The lower cargo hold isn’t very spacious and the upper deck is a couple of inches too short to fit standard containers. Also, the upper deck doors are about 26 feet above the ground so loading cargo would be a logistical challenge.
Airbus considered building a cargo variant of the aircraft, the A380F. However, those plans fell through when FedEx scrapped its order. While that aircraft would have been built slightly differently to maximize cargo capacity, there’s still the issue that the plane would get too heavy before it’s fully filled up.
Hi Fly took over the A380 from Singapore Airlines and retained its original interior, including enclosed first-class suites with the ability to create a quasi-double bed. It is chartered for various reasons, such as to substitute for planes that airlines have to ground for maintenance. For instance, in 2018, I flew on the plane when Norwegian used it to cover for grounded Boeing 787s. More recently, it’s been used for repatriation flights, such as Europeans needing to evacuate Wuhan, and to transport medical supplies.
While this is the first A380 to be converted, airlines around the world have recently converted their passenger planes to cargo ones, such as Air Canada and three of its flagship Boeing 777-300ERs. Some airlines have also been operating cargo-only flights without modifying their aircraft by using the space on seats and overhead lockers to load boxes, including Malaysia Airlines and its A380. Airlines have been doing this to meet the increased demand for cargo during the pandemic and make use of their aircraft that would otherwise be grounded.
Many airlines have either retired their A380s or put them into long-term storage in recent months so it’s nice to see that Hi Fly found a new purpose for its jet. While it might not be viable long-term, with so many airlines’ fleets grounded, it could be a while until Hi Fly sees demand for charter passenger flights again.
Featured image by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy/Hi Fly.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.