Etihad Airways now looks almost certain to retire all ten of its Airbus A380s, which have been grounded since March 2020 – closing a chapter of ambitious innovation in which the Gulf carrier sought to re-invent first class flying.
Crowned by the extravagant three-room Residence suite and nine spacious first class Apartments, along with a small Lobby bar and social area, the A380s – launched in 2014 – showcased how former Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan to reimagine the airline as a high-end competitor to neighbour Emirates.
While The Residence was an aspirational 'halo' product for Etihad, its Apartment suites – which offered a seperate armchair and bed, along with a mini-bar and vanity cabinet – easily bested the first-generation offerings of superjumbo launch customers Emirates and Singapore Airlines.
However, Etihad Airways group CEO Tony Douglas now says of those parked A380s "I'm sure it's very likely that we won't see them operating with Etihad again."
Douglas doesn't expect air travel to return to pre-crisis levels until 2023, and says the airline has accelerated its five-year turnaround plan which was in place before the pandemic hit, reducing passenger numbers by 76% across 2020 and tipping the Abu Dhabi-based airline into a US$1.7 billion 'core operating loss'.
"Had we not been engaged in the transformation programme and had we not accelerated it as a result of Covid, it would have been an awful lot more," he told UAE publication The National earlier this month.
"We put the metal down on the floor on the transformation agenda and it was difficult because we had to make further network and fleet decisions."
Douglas had previously cast doubt on the A380's future, saying that while passengers love the double-decker cruiser, "I think it’s heavily handicapped by two engines too many, and other aircraft that can do the job far more efficiently, far more sustainably."
With the exception of Emirates, which is slowly rebuilding its A380 network, most other airlines appear to agree with Douglas.
Singapore Airlines will retire more than a third of its A380s which have been "deemed surplus to fleet requirements", although the remaining superjumbos will all be upgraded to feature the airline's latest first class suites and business class seats.
Qantas' entire superjumbo fleet is being parked until at least the middle of 2023, pending the recovery of demand for air travel in the post-pandemic world, while Qatar Airways will retire five Airbus A380s – half of its fleet – while a superjumbo-sized question mark remains hanging over the rest.
British Airways' A380s also remain stood down, while Air France announced in May 2020 that it would retire its ten A380s "with immediate effect."
Lufthansa, having already disposed of six A380s last year, now says its remaining eight superjumbos "will be transferred to long-term storage and removed from planning. These aircraft will only be reactivated in the event of an unexpectedly rapid market recovery."