Etihad Airways is tamping down speculation that its superlative A380 superjumbos will soon return to London, Paris and Sydney.
But the Gulf carrier remains guarded with its words, preferring ‘market condition’ caveats over an outright denial.
London-based ‘aviation data analyst’ Zulqarnain Butt, whose tips tend to be accurate, last week stated “Etihad Airways are expected to bring back 3 Airbus A380s. Initially in the first 12 months, they will flying to the following destinations; London Heathrow 5x weekly, Sydney 3x weekly, Paris 2x weekly. More details to be released by the airline in the coming weeks,” he concluded.
The report triggered hope that Etihad Airways would join the likes of Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, Qantas and British Airways in bring back some of its grounded A380s – and to paraphrase Mark Twain, “a rumour can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Approached by Executive Traveller for comment, Etihad Airways continues to state the A380 would soar once more only if several factors aligned.
“We would only re-enter our A380s into the fleet if the yield on ticket prices and demand would make them financially viable,” a spokesman for the airline told Executive Traveller.
“With the currently soaring oil prices that is unlikely to occur any time soon.”
“The A380 is an incredible product and something that all of us would love to return from a travelling perspective, but the economics need to make sense.”
As Executive Traveller has previously reported, even Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas isn’t quite ready to write off the A380s, hedging his bets with a cautious “never say never.” to the superjumbo’s return.
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.
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.”