Malaysia Airlines' move not unprecedented, Air France did it first

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Airlines Bhd's move to return its A380 aircraft to European aircraft manufacturer Airbus does not make it the first airline in the world to do so.

Pangolin Aviation Recovery Fund director Mohshin Aziz said the national carrier's move to give back all six of its superjumbo jet was not something new as other airlines had done the same in the past.

"Air France, for example, has done the same many years ago even before the pandemic. They want to retire their A380s but they couldn't find a buyer or park all of the planes at the (aircraft) boneyard. So, they returned some of the aircraft back to the manufacturer," he told the New Straits Times recently.

Air France had announced in 2020 an early retirement for 10 of its A380, making it the first airline in the world to retire the entire fleet of its superjumbo plane.

Initially, the airline said it would retire all of its A380s by 2022 but the Covid-19 pandemic had quickened the process.

The flag carrier of France had seen its first A380 left the fleet in December 2019.

The aircraft, registered as F-HPJB was stripped in Malta for parts and broken up in Northern Ireland in 2021.

Another airline that had announced the retirement of its A380 fleet and scrapped at least two of the widebody aircraft is Singapore Airlines.

The airplanes were dismantled in Singapore by Singapore Airlines' maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) unit SIA Engineering Company.

According to Channel News Asia, which quoted a Singapore Airlines spokesperson, the usable parts from the scrapped aircraft would be used as spare parts to maintain the airline's other A380s that were currently in service.

Other aircraft materials, such as parts of the fuselage, cabin windows, overhead compartments and seats would be repurposed for the airline's upcycling initiative.

Meanwhile, an aircraft boneyard is similar to a graveyard for retired airplanes. Most aircraft are placed there for storage or be scrapped to have their parts removed for reuse or resale.

The boneyard facilities are located in deserts, mostly in Southwestern United States and in Europe such as Spain due to dry weather conditions that could reduce airplane corrosion.

In the case of Malaysia Airlines' plan to return six of its A380s to Airbus as part of its recent purchase of 20 new A330-900 neo (new engine option) deal, Mohshin said the negotiations could have been made between the two parties to find a solution for the airline, although it was uncommon for manufacturers to take back the planes that were sold.

The national carrier had on July 12 2021 issued a tender notice for interested parties to acquire its A380 aircraft and/or component. However, there were no solid buyers even after over a year.

Another industry observer who declined to be named has a similar view, saying that the logical thing to do was for the national carrier to dismantle all six of the A380s to take out all the components and return the parts to Airbus.

"One of the things that they (Airbus) could do is to resell the A380 spare parts to other airlines that are operating the aircraft.

"Some parts such as the seats, trolley or handrails could even be sold to the public," he said, adding that monetary value could be put on each of the A380 parts.

Airbus had held a three-day auction to sell some 500 parts belonging to a scrapped Emirates A380 on Oct 13-15. this year. The auction items included stairs, bar, lamps, trolleys, seats and paddles, to name a few.

Meanwhile, Mohshin said the A380 components that were still in good condition can be reused.

He also said that having surplus of the parts would be very useful for airlines that were still operating the superjumbo as there was highly likely a short of supply in materials to produce new A380 parts.

"There could probably be an issue with the supply of the (aircraft) materials because of the global sanction on Russia. Russia is the biggest producer of aviation grade titanium in the world," he added.

The world's largest titanium producer is VSMPO-Avisma Corporation, located in Verkhnyaya Salda, Russia.

The company has been supplying aviation grade titanium to aircraft manufacturers, including Airbus, Boeing and Embraer as well as aircraft engine producers such as Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney, for decades.

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