The grounding of Boeing Co.’s 737 Max narrow-body jet has led Middle Eastern airline Emirates to divert normally globe-trotting Airbus SE A380 superjumbos onto 40-minute trips to replace lost capacity.
Emirates is using the double-deckers for flights from Dubai to Oman, which at 211 miles are the shortest anywhere with the model, after sister carrier FlyDubai reduced services following the idling of its 14-strong Max fleet.
The switch at the world’s largest long-haul airline illustrates how fallout from the Max grounding is rippling across the industry. Carriers around the globe are having to redeploy or lease in planes while delaying the retirement of older ones as Boeing works on a fix for the stricken jet, which suffered two fatal crashes in five months, without specifying when it will return to the skies.
Emirates said the A380 flights to Muscat, which began on July 1, last only five minutes longer than it takes to clean the giant jet’s interior between trips. Data from online flight tracker FlightRadar24 indicates that the carrier is managing to fit in other services around the short hops, with one plane used on a flight Tuesday departing for Madrid later the same day.
Muscat was among the destinations hit as FlyDubai cut 17% of services in response to the grounding of its Max 8 and 9 aircraft, according to a statement from the short-haul airline in March. Frequencies have been pared to three a day from five, using Boeing 737-800 planes typically seating 174.
Emirates, which sells tickets on FlyDubai jets via a so-called code-share arrangement, is operating two of its own flights daily with A380s that carry 519 people. That’s 159 more per trip than the Boeing 777-300s it previously used, and which will continue to operate a third daily service.
Demand on the Muscat route is high, an Emirates spokeswoman said, with the city acting as a transfer hub for people traveling between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar for the past two years after a Saudi-led boycott of the gas-rich nation led to a moratorium on direct flights to Doha.
Emirates and FlyDubai, both state owned with the same chairman, have become more integrated recently, to the extent that they’ve rationalized routes to avoid duplication, though the Muscat services have avoided being merged.
Emirates is continuing to mull deployment plans for the world’s largest A380 fleet as it seeks to establish the optimum route profile for the next five to 10 years. That’s after Airbus signaled a halt to the superjumbo program after sales slowed to a trickle.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.