EXCLUSIVE | If you’ve visited any Australian airport in the past six months, you’ve probably seen all the grounded Qantas and Virgin jets parked on the runways and taxiways. They’re a striking symbol of the pandemic that has shut down much of the travel and tourism industry… every grounded plane represents dozens of airline staff that have sadly been stood down or made redundant.
At the moment, only 55% of Qantas’ fleet and 56% of Virgin’s planes are in active service – and that doesn’t include the aircraft types both airlines have permanently retired since the start of the pandemic.
So, where exactly are all the grounded planes? We’ve broken it down for you…
Qantas aircraft in service
Of the 216 aircraft in the Qantas and QantasLink fleets, 119 are currently in regular service. The other 97 planes are grounded indefinitely.
That may not seem so bad, until you dig a little deeper. While 55% of the Qantas passenger fleet is currently being used, most of those are the smaller jets and turboprops used for domestic and regional flying. The aircraft groundings are skewed towards the larger international jets, so in reality only 43% of Qantas seat capacity is currently being utilised.
The entire Qantas international A380 fleet is grounded, and there’s currently just one Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in service which operated last weekend’s sightseeing flight – although two other Boeing 787s did fly to Sydney without passengers in recent weeks. Of course, Qantas also placed its remaining Boeing 747 jumbo jets into early retirement this year (we’re not counting these in the statistics).
All 17 of Qantas’ Airbus A330-200s are currently in storage. But 90% of the Airbus A330-300s are currently in regular service. These jets are mainly operating trans-continental domestic flights and cargo-only flights to Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai. 50% of Qantas’ Boeing 737-800s are in service.
In total, this means that only 38% of the mainline Qantas fleet is currently in use. But 78% of the QantasLink fleet of Boeing 717s, Fokker 100s, Airbus A320s and Bombardier Dash 8s are in active passenger service. This reflects the strong demand for intrastate and regional flying at present, particularly within Western Australia where many of the active aircraft are based.
Here’s the full Qantas fleet breakdown as of October 2020:
Virgin Australia aircraft in service
Officially, 56% of Virgin Australia’s fleet is currently in active service (including Virgin Australia Regional Airlines). But this doesn’t account for the fact that 5x Boeing 777-300ERs, 6x Airbus A330-200s and 12x ATR72s have just been retired or returned to lessors. None of these planes are included in our statistics.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, Virgin Australia had 72 Boeing 737s in active service. In October 2020, just 35 of these jets are in the sky. Of the other 37 grounded Boeing 737s, some will eventually return to service for Virgin and others are being returned to lessors.
But if we look at Virgin Australia’s remaining regional fleet, things aren’t nearly so dire. All of Virgin’s A320s are still in service, and 11 of the 14 Fokker 100s in Virgin’s regional fleet are still active. Almost all of these planes are being used on flights within Western Australia.
Here’s the full Virgin Australia fleet breakdown as of October 2020:
If we include the aircraft that Virgin Australia has recently removed from its fleet in the statistics, the airline is theoretically operating at 42% of its pre-covid seating capacity. In reality, though, Virgin’s only operating about 20% of its pre-COVID flight schedules as aircraft utilisation is also down significantly.
Where are the surplus Qantas & Virgin planes parked?
Many of the 137 grounded Qantas and Virgin Australia planes are currently parked at airports in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. But all of Qantas’ A380s are currently in the United States. Most of the A380s have already been parked in Victorville or Los Angeles for months, although VH-OQI only joined them a few weeks ago. It flew directly from Dresden to Victorville on 25 September after receiving an unfortunately-timed cabin refurbishment in Germany.
Qantas expects the A380s to be grounded for several years, so Victorville is simply a more suitable (and cheaper) place to store the superjumbo planes for an extended period. It’s also much closer to Qantas’ A380 maintenance facility at Los Angeles International Airport.
Virgin Australia appears to have two planes parked in Singapore, as well as a Boeing 737 in Christchurch. And two of Qantas’ Boeing 787s are parked in Los Angeles. But the rest of the grounded Qantas & Virgin planes are in Australia.
Qantas initially had most of its Airbus A330-200s parked at Avalon Airport, along with much of the Jetstar fleet. But most of the Qantas jets left at Avalon were moved to Sydney or Brisbane in recent weeks.
In addition to the major Australian airports, Qantas and Virgin have planes parked in Adelaide, Canberra, Toowoomba, Tamworth and Perth. Here’s a full breakdown of where Qantas and Virgin’s grounded planes are currently parked around Australia: