Etihad pushes back Airbus A350s to 2023

The Boeing 787 steps up as Etihad's jet of choice as it rides out the pandemic to become a mid-sized airline.

By David Flynn, March 12 2021
Etihad pushes back Airbus A350s to 2023

Etihad Airways doesn't plan to fly its Airbus A350s until 2023, with the Boeing 787 filling out the fleet for the next few years as it transitions to becoming a smaller, mid-sized airline.

The Gulf carrier has already taken delivery of five A350-1000s from its total order of 20, with those first jets sent straight into storage – and it looks like they'll be there for some time yet.

"It's one of those where you segment how you fight your way through 2021-2022 and we'd do that with the 787s predominantly," says Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas, who also believes "it's very likely" all ten Airbus A380s will be retired with immediate effect.

"We have now taken the strategic decision to park the A380s, I'm sure it's very likely that we won't see them operating with Etihad again."

For Etihad, the next few years belong to the Boeing 787.
For Etihad, the next few years belong to the Boeing 787.

As for its outstanding order for the much-delayed Boeing 777-9s – which launch customer and competitor Emirates now doesn't expect to see until 2024 – Douglas suggests even Boeing might not have a timeline for when Etihad can pick up the keys to its next-gen 777s.

"I'm not sure they know and it will probably be some time until they can answer it intelligently because of the Covid impact," he told UAE publication The National earlier this month, but added that the 777-9 schedule is not his highest priority right now.

"When you're in a street fight with Covid, it's almost irrelevant, because the deliveries are way out in the future anyway. The trick to this one is to focus on 2021-2022 (and) that journey is a 787 Dreamliner journey."

Many of Etihad's Boeing 787s retain eight bespoke first class suites, along with the same business class seats as on the Airbus A380. However, it's not known if the mothballed Airbus A350s share the same product.

Etihad's Boeing 787 first class (left) and business class (right).
Etihad's Boeing 787 first class (left) and business class (right).

However, it's not known if the Airbus A350s share the same design .

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 said.

"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."


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1192

Like Cathay earlier in the week, Etihad will be keen to push off the 777-9s as far into the future as Boeing will agree.  With a much smaller route network and aspirations for ongoing growth no longer a management driver, the 787s and A350s will probably be enough for Etihad until well into the second half of this decade.

12 Jul 2022

Total posts 1

I am new to this forum and at a loss to find out what we are flying to Sydney from Heathrow and Abu Dhabi with  Etihad.  on 27/02/2023 at the moment we are confirmed 5D and FG in a  777ER  but having read the above article it looks like it may be an A350   . Would anyone know if the A350 comes into service before 27/02 /2023 .

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 410

I don't think anybody but Etihad will know that at this stage but I would think the A350s for Australia are still a long way away.

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