Etihad may axe Airbus A380s, cancel A350 order

The trend towards downsizing continues, with Etihad embarking on a fleet review that could see the superjumbo gone for good.

By David Flynn , May 22 2020
Etihad may axe Airbus A380s, cancel A350 order

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.

For the A380's launch campaign Etihad signed up Nicole Kidman, seen here in The Residence.
For the A380's launch campaign Etihad signed up Nicole Kidman, seen here in The Residence.

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.

From lounges to suites and service, Etihad remodelled itself on a boutique hotel.
From lounges to suites and service, Etihad remodelled itself on a boutique hotel.

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.

The Airbus A380 has quickly fallen out of favour with airlines around the world.
The Airbus A380 has quickly fallen out of favour with airlines around the world.

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.

David

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.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 240

How do they know there will be a low demand for flying at the end of the year, for example? Besides governments closing borders... don't airlines believe that people will want to fly again? People will have to fly again for work, leisure and so on... I'm keen to get back in the air as soon as possible!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

05 Sep 2013

Total posts 53

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates are based on a scenario where COVID-19 has a similar V-shaped impact on demand as was experienced during SARS. That was characterized by a six-month period with a sharp decline followed by an equally quick recovery. In 2003, SARS was responsible for the 5.1% fall in the RPKs carried by Asia-Pacific airlines.

An IATA-commissioned survey of recent travellers found that:

1) 60% anticipate a return to travel within one to two months of containment of the COVID-19 pandemic but 40% indicate that they could wait six months or more.

2) 69% indicated that they could delay a return to travel until their personal financial situation stabilizes.

IATA's analyse indicates that Coronavirus travel restrictions mean air traffic levels not predicted to recover until 2023.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 240

Thanks! Btw, only 1.5-2 years ago I had flown on an A380 for the first time. For a long time I only flew on the 777, A330, A350 and 787. Happy to have flown the A380 but wish I could now be on the 747 :(

27 Nov 2019

Total posts 127

super cheap fares here we come

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 58

COVID-19 has had a far wider impact than SARS. The latter's greatest impact was the Asian region and its airlines. The former has impacted the whole world. All airlines have grounded most of their fleets. A quick "bounce back" is highly unlikely, even for those of us who currently have our feet "nailed to the ground" and who want to be able to fly again. One has also to ask, what are/will be the health conditions in the countries to which we use fly frequently? Which aircraft will be most economical to fly? Which fares will be optimal?

27 Nov 2019

Total posts 127

borders are opening everywhere now. EK might get rid of leased A380s but they can't sell the A380s they own unless for a tiny amount.

Am sure they access cheap fuel in Dubai, so they'll have to keep them flying. On busy routes, they could just fly 2 x A380s instead of 3 x B777s

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

05 Sep 2013

Total posts 53

Smart decision by Etihad.

I would hope that Etihad's management are looking at cancelling all A350 & B777X orders and simplify the fleet into an A320 family only operation for narrow body routes and B787 only for wide body routes. With a simplified fleet, Etihad should hopefully be back to profitability soon.

A380 retirement will happen at same point. At the end of the day, first class doesn't earn more than business class, when you compare it to a per meter metric. And the resident, whist a great product, how many people actually pay for it? If the A380 goes, it would FastTrack Etihad's strategic shift to becoming a more disciplined airline.

10 May 2017

Total posts 3

Having travelled in the past on A380, B777, A350, B787, A330 and B747, the A380 would be my favourite - not counting airline economics - so I will be sad to see it retire.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 164

Appreciate the news, David, thank you. Like many, I believe that when EY first brought out the new First & Business class product on the A380 it was hard to beat. For sheer opulence the Apartments we're a great experience. Business? I thought it to be the better product at the time (until QR Q Suites and, can I say, the new QF Business). But....

..the real issue is can the Middle East sustain three majors within a Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney proximity? I suggest, not long term. This really is a matter within the UAE around economics and status (as much as economics) of the UAE Royal Families. The Al Nahyan family (Abu Dhabi) and the Al Maktoum (Dubai) really do have the greatest of influence of the six royal families in the seven emirates that make up the UAE. Al Nahyan outstrips them all for net worth, yet 'Emirates' is the airline with the best future. It will be an interesting few years....

As for Qatar Airways? Again, it's a simple matter of Economics and status within the region. Qatar has a lot of (what I see as) 'BBC Smarts' about it. They are open to the West and the Western view of 'get on with it' more so than the UAE. Cheers!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2016

Total posts 25

We will miss the A380. We usually travel at least four return flights each year with QANTAS to London and Dallas. Our last flight QF1 was in the refurbished Business and it was stunning. The seat is just fabulous, the food excellent and the staff brilliant. The most noticeable feature is the space - 1-2-1 and when you realise Economy downstairs is 3-4-3 that doesn't fully convey the spaciousness as that doesn't account for the space of the flat bed. There is so much space within the seat - storage, largest tray I have ever encountered while the comfort I believe cannot be improved. Even QF2 returning in Business is still good. (We arrived in Sydney on the second day of the lockdown, so out timing was superb.).

Aboard QF1 my wife was in A and I was immediately across the aisle but that wasn't an issue. Equally, the adjustable dividing screen between the charming passenger adjacent to me was so well designed we only interacted when we stood to disembark in Singapore and London.

Congratulations QANTAS on a fabulous product. We will be back onboard ASAP and hope you keep flying A380s as long as possible.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

04 Sep 2018

Total posts 11

For me, I wonder if there IS an airline left that the economics for an A380 actually works for. The reason? There could be a LOT of them going cheaply now.. And, for the right routes, at the right second hand price, that could be the perfect recipe for an airline to pick up a stack of them and make them work! I know it's wishful thinking but could it be possible? Which airline would this be?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 240

VA =D

23 Apr 2020

Total posts 6

Some firesale cheap A380s will surely be useful for wet lease / charter type operations. For example flying Haj visitors to Saudi on a point-to-point basis etc. HiFly seems to do ok on that basis with their single A380. EK also has a lot of A380s going daily into LHR - seems likely given the slot situation that would continue for quite some time.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 314

Sad news indeed. I love the A380 and flew biz on Etihad a number of times. Not the most comfortable bed, however, still a great experience. Sad times no doubt!!


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Etihad may axe Airbus A380s, cancel A350 order