DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - One of two airlines flying the world's biggest plane to the U.S. is pulling the aircraft off the route because of the economic downturn.
Dubai-based Emirates said Wednesday it will replace two double-decker Airbus A380s it uses on a daily Dubai-New York flight with smaller Boeing 777s starting June 1. A second daily roundtrip already using the same type of Boeing plane remains unchanged.
The turnaround comes less than eight months after Emirates debuted the wide-body "superjumbo" in the U.S. amid much fanfare. Since then, American household and company travel budgets have grown increasingly strained as the country slipped deeper into recession.
Swapping out the planes for a smaller model will give Emirates 132 fewer seats it needs to fill on the route each day, according to a company official who declined to be named in line with company policy.
"As the global economy has affected international air travel, this aircraft redeployment was based solely on a change in capacity demands," Emirates said in an e-mailed statement. "When economic conditions improve, we anticipate demand will be restored on the Dubai-New York JFK service, at which time Emirates will certainly evaluate redeploying the A380 on this route."
Emirates plans to redeploy the A380s onto one of two daily flights to Bangkok, Thailand, and on service three times a week to Toronto.
Australia's Qantas is the only other carrier that currently flies the A380 to the U.S. It operates the plane on certain days between Los Angeles and Melbourne and Sydney.
Emirates became the first airline to begin flying the A380 to the U.S. last August. Its versions of the planes are outfitted with plush amenities such as a cocktail bar and onboard showers for first-class passengers.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, anticipating that a number of other carriers will launch additional A380 service in the coming years, spent $179 million to prepare JFK airport to accommodate the wider, heavier aircraft.
Unlike publicly traded airlines in the U.S., Dubai government-owned Emirates does not release monthly traffic and capacity figures.
Carriers across the globe are struggling to fill their planes at a profit. Figures released this week by the International Air Transport Association, an industry trade group, showed that the number of passengers traveling on first or business class tickets worldwide tumbled by 16.7 percent in January. Long-haul airlines typically rely on those so-called premium travelers to cover much of their operating costs.
Emirates earlier this month launched a 50 million dirham ($13.6 million) campaign with Dubai hotel and travel officials to promote the Persian Gulf city-state, which has seen its substantial tourism industry hit hard by the economic downturn.
The carrier is banking much of its future on the A380. It has ordered 58 of the massive aircraft, making it Toulouse, France-based Airbus' biggest customer for the plane. Emirates has received four of the planes so far.