Etihad Airways isn’t quite ready to write off its Airbus A380s, with CEO Tony Douglas hedging his bets with a cautious “never say never” to the superjumbo’s return as airlines around the world bring back their own A380s.
Qatar Airways has now brought back eight of its ten A380s – an aircraft whose purchase airline chief Akbar Al Baker candidly described as "our biggest mistake” – while Lufthansa will restart its A380s from the middle of 2023.
British Airways plans to bring all 12 of its Airbus A380s this year, while Singapore Airlines and Qantas continue to grow their post-pandemic superjumbo fleet with more of the double-decker jets bring brought out of mothballs.
So where does that leave Etihad’s superlative but still-grounded A380s?
Executive Traveller caught up with Douglas on the sidelines of Etihad’s first Airbus A350 flight, and these days any discussion has got to include the fate of the A380, which Douglas agrees is not just the elephant in the room but "the superjumbo in the room.”
“It’s an incredible aircraft,” Douglas enthuses. “It’s an aircraft that we all love… and guests love the experience, it’s second to none.”
That’s especially true in first class, where – putting aside the opulent three-room Residence – travellers enjoyed spacious Apartment suites which set the standard for competitors such as Singapore Airlines and Qantas to follow.
“But in terms of economics, it’s last in the queue for very obvious reasons when it comes to fuel burn, weight etcetera,” Douglas reflects.
“The dilemma is quite simple: the A380s are not commercially economical and there's no way dressing that up.”
Douglas cites the ongoing high cost of jet fuel as “extremely prohibitive” to the four-engined A380.
“I'd never say never if yield continues on some of the thick routes – and if oil prices reverse back quite materially, then there could be the case to bring some of them back into the game.”
“But I don't see that anytime soon, and there's a few big ‘ifs’ in that.”