• Asiana Airlines is flying empty Airbus A380s to keep its pilots certified in the superjumbo jet, according to a Bloomberg report.
  • The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger plane, and a poor fit for a world of severely reduced travel.
  • It’s not cheap to fly empty, but without access to an A380 flight simulator, Asiana has no better way to ensure its pilots don’t lose their right to take off.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A 495-seat superjumbo jet has been flying over South Korea totally empty. Except for the cockpit, that is.

Asiana Airlines is flying empty Airbus A380s to keep its pilots certified in the superjumbo jet, according to a report by Bloomberg’s Kyunghee Park. Asiana, which is South Korea’s second largest airline, has flown the A380 more than 20 times since the coronavirus pandemic halted much of global aviation.

It’s not clear just how much this is costing Asiana, but one expert told Bloomberg it’s certainly not cheap.

“Takeoffs and landings of this plane cost a lot of money, and it’s money that needs to be used wisely, especially these days,” Um Kyung-a, an analyst at Seoul-based financial services company Shinyoung Securities, told Bloomberg.

It is, however, necessary. If Asiana’s pilots don’t fly at least three times in a three-month period, they lose their right to operate the plane. Putting them in a flight stimulator would suffice, but the closest one to which the airline has access to is in Thailand, a company spokesperson told Bloomberg. Asiana pilots can’t go there due to the travel ban. “Asiana is in a bind because it also can’t afford for its pilots to lose their licenses,” Um told Bloomberg. Thus, the real-life flights, sans passengers.

The A380 isn’t fit for the coronavirus world of travel. Many airlines are using their passenger planes to haul cargo, or for short-hop, domestic flights. But Airbus designed the hulking A380 to transport up to 800 people across oceans and continents. Even before the pandemic, the superjumbo was on its way out, as Business Insider’s David Slotnick has reported. Airbus will stop producing the jet in 2021, as it proved too costly for airlines to fly profitably. The double-decker plane is “economically feasible only on routes with heavy airport congestion.”

But Asiana has six A380s in its fleet, and it needs its pilots to remain ready to fly them whenever travel rebounds. So for now, the “ghost flights” will continue.

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