Having grounded its flagship Airbus A380s in March 2020, and removed them from its schedule until at least September 2021, time could be running out for Etihad Airways' luxe-laden superjumbos.
According to the Gulf carrier, the best case scenario will see the ten-strong A380 fleet return to the skies once there's sufficient demand.
But with the International Air Transport Association predicting that air travel won't return to pre-COVID levels until 2023-24, Etihad may find that A380-friendly future simply lies too far away, and at the end of an uncertain road.
News agency Reuters has reported that the A380s have been parked "indefinitely" after softer than expected demand, with passenger levels better suited to the airline's twin-engine jets such as the Boeing 777 and 787 series.
"As Etihad continues to focus on recovery and rebuilding our global network, we will continue to rely on the efficiencies and advantages of our twin engine widebody aircraft," an Etihad spokesman tells Executive Traveller.
"During this period, Etihad’s 10 A380s will remain grounded, until demand grows and there is sufficient appetite to reassess their viability."
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 the ambitions of former Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan to reimagine the airline as a high-end competitor to neighbour Emirates.
However, current Etihad CEO Tony Douglas has already raised the question of if its A380s will ever fly again, 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.
Earlier this month, Singapore Airlines confirmed it would 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 CEO Akbar Al Baker says his airline's ten superjumbos "will not return for at least a year, maybe never."
British Airways' A380s also remain stood down until at least 2021, while Air France announced in May 2020 that it would retire its ten A380s "with immediate effect."
Lufthansa, having already disposed of six A380s earlier this 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."
Additional reporting by Chris Chamberlin