Etihad Airways has joined the growing list of airlines reconsidering the fate of the Airbus A380, with the Gulf carrier reportedly ready to retire all ten of its flagship superjumbos and also cancel an outstanding order for 20 Airbus A350-1000s.
A report by news service Reuters says the fate of Etihad's A380 and A350 hinge on forecasts of the post-coronavirus travel market, which experts, analysts and airline CEOs alike all expect to be severely constrained until 2022-2023.
According to Reuters, "the state-owned carrier is reviewing its fleet strategy after the coronavirus pandemic hit travel demand, which Etihad’s management expects will take years to recover, two sources said, adding the airline was expected to make a decision on the fate of the two Airbus wide-bodies soon.
Etihad was already reeling after heavy spending on its ambitious but since abandoned plans to become a major hub-based airline in the same league as rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways.
This reached its peak with the launch of an Airbus A380 fleet in which each superjumbo was crowned by an opulent three-room Residence which was compared to a penthouse in the sky, complete with a Savoy-trained personal butler.
It also invested over a billion dollars in now-failed airlines including Alitalia, Airberlin and Etihad Regional, while its 20% stake in Virgin Australia is likely to be wiped out once new owners take control of the airline.
Emirates Airbus A350-1000: one delayed, now DOA?
Etihad CEO Tony Douglas has shifted the airline's focus away from grand plans of global dominance into being a smaller, more disciplined operation which would prioritise point-to-point flights over the 'super-hub' model it had previously pursued.
This was to include as many as 62 Airbus A350-1000 jets, alongside the Boeing 777 and 787 fleet, although that order was subsequently slashed to just 20 A350-1000s – the first of which were due to begin flying in 2019.
In June 2019, an Etihad spokesman told Executive Traveller that "Etihad Airways will retime the entry into service of five new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft as part of its ongoing business transformation plan."
"The Airbus A350 is an important part of Etihad’s future fleet and network strategy, " he said. "A decision on the A350 introduction date will be made at a later stage in the context of the airline’s strategic planning."
The Airbus A380: too big for suddenly-downsized demand
Earlier this week, Air France confirmed it would ditch all nine of its Airbus A380s, making it the latest airline to walk away from a jet that's now seen as simply too big for the downsized travel demand of the coronavirus era.
Long-time A380 champion Emirates now seeking to scrap its last five Airbus A380 orders and cut as many as half of its 115-strong A380 fleet.
In April, Lufthansa said it would retire six of its 14 A380s earlier than scheduled, while Qantas may follow a similar path with its own A380s as part of a sweeping review of its entire international fleet to reshape the airline around post-coronavirus travel demand.
"There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told Executive Traveller of the airline's flagship jets. "That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like. The Qantas of 2021 and 2022 will not be the Qantas of 2019."
Qantas has also halted a multi-million dollar upgrade program which was to have seen all A380s outfitted with new business class and premium economy seats, new inflight lounges and refreshed first class suites by the end of this year. Only half of the 12 A380s have been refurbished.