The world’s largest airliner returned to Glasgow on Sunday for the first time since 2019 following a boost in travel demand.
Middle Eastern carrier Emirates is reintroducing the Airbus A380 - a double-decker four-engine jet that can carry 517 passengers - for flights between the Scottish City and Dubai.
Emirates has previously operated Glasgow-Dubai flights using Boeing 777s, which have 302 seats for passengers, but it is bringing back the larger airliner due to “sustained demand”.
The airline’s UK divisional vice president Richard Jewsbury told the PA news agency: “The return of the A380 is purely demand driven. We’ve seen sustained demand from the Scottish market.
“Dubai is the number one destination but we’re seeing really good flows down to Australia, Thailand, the Indian subcontinent – which is very popular particularly for VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic – and the Indian Ocean.
“It’s about growing the capacity back. As we go into the summer period we’re expecting more visitors and inbound traffic from around the network.”
Ronald Leitch, Glasgow Airport operations director, said the airline’s Glasgow-Dubai route “continues to be a tremendous success story for Scotland”, and the reintroduction of an A380 is “a huge vote of confidence for Glasgow and the wider region”.
The return comes after the vast majority of A380s around the world were put into storage at the height of the Covid pandemic, fuelling speculation they would never return and would instead be replaced by more fuel-efficient aircraft.
But their ability to carry more passengers than all other commercial planes - and the demand for international travel returning - means the model is making a recovery.
Mr Jewsbury claimed the suggestion that A380s could be permanently grounded was “always ridiculous” as the capacity it offers cannot be matched. He said: “I think the A380 always has been and will continue to be in high demand.
“It’s a really superb product. Very spacious, very comfortable, very quiet. It’s one that customers go out of their way to fly on. We’re seeing demand running hot across the network at the moment so we need the capacity the A380 provides.”
Emirates currently has 80 of its A380s in service, out of a fleet of 116. In the UK, the airline is already operating the jets at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, while Birmingham flights will resume in July.
Figures from aviation analytics company Cirium show A380s are expected to be used for 5,857 commercial passenger flights across all airlines this month. That remains 40% below the total for March 2019 before the pandemic began, but represents an 80% increase from a year ago.
Earlier this week, Lufthansa became the latest airline to confirm it will reactivate its A380s this summer, with flights on the Munich-New York and Munich-Boston routes.
Aviation consultant John Strickland, of JLS Consulting, said one of the reasons the plane is popular with passengers is that “even if you sit in economy there’s a much greater sense of space”. Emirates’ use of the aircraft on flights to Dubai makes it “much easier” for the airline to fill connecting planes to Africa, Asia and Australia, he added.
British Airways has a dozen A380s which are deployed on routes between London and US destinations such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Dallas, as well as South Africa for holidaymakers seeking winter sun.
But some airlines are yet to announce plans to bring their fleets out of long-term storage and Air France permanently retired its A380s in May 2020. Mr Strickland believes the current demand for air travel means some carriers may “regret” not giving themselves an option to use the planes.
The return of the Airbus A380 to Glasgow comes after new figures show the demand for travel is rising, with more than 224 million passengers travelling through UK airports last year. This was more than three times higher than the figure for 2021 but was just three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels, according to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
But more than a third of flights to and from UK airports last year were delayed, running at an average of 22 minutes late - 60% longer than in 2019.
CAA head of consumers Anna Bowles said: “More than three times as many people flew into and from UK airports last year compared with 2021, demonstrating a clear wish by consumers to return to travel as Covid restrictions were lifted, and giving industry a well-needed boost after a difficult few years.
“That bounceback in passenger numbers was at times overshadowed by the challenges that the aviation sector faced in the early summer of 2022, which saw an unacceptable level of flight cancellations and delays.
“We expect to see increased resilience and continued improved performance by airlines in 2023, giving passengers the experience they expect and the confidence to continue to return to travel.”