Etihad Airways' first Airbus A350 is now sitting at the Gulf carrier's Abu Dhabi hub, sparking anticipation that the advanced jets will soon join the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the vanguard of Etihad's modernised fleet.
Almost two years after Airbus began delivering the A350-1000 to Etihad, five of the jets painted in the airline's livery have stood idle at Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport – but one of those was relocated to Abu Dhabi on the weekend, where Etihad's engineering team will begin the cabin interior fit-out.
Approached for comment on the A350's weekend shift, a spokesperson for Etihad Airways said "we are delighted to welcome it home, but while the global network remains under constant review as we adapt operations to the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on global travel, the introduction date of the aircraft’s entry into service is yet to be determined as part of the airline’s broader strategy planning."
It's been just over one month since Etihad CEO Tony Douglas announced the airline would scrap its entire Boeing 777-300ER fleet and ground its Airbus A380s "indefinitely" as the Gulf carrier races to become a smaller and more streamlined 'boutique' operation.
"You will see of us a very focused, a very disciplined operating model which is heavily built around the fleet of the (Boeing) 787 Dreamliner and (Airbus) A350-1000," Douglas said.
"We're now into midsize but commercially sustainable, and obsessive with customer service. It's the boutique end that is where we want to operate."
Etihad counts 39 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in its fleet and also holds orders for 20 Airbus A350, although Douglas has previously said the airline is looking to operate only up to 12 A350s.
Etihad's Airbus A350 first class, business class
Although the configuration of Etihad's Airbus A350-1000 jets has not been revealed, it's expected they could contain a small first class cabin in common with some Boeing 787-9s, with between four and eight private suites using the same design as developed for the Dreamliner.
Likewise, Etihad's Airbus A350 business class would likely feature the same Business Studio seats as developed for the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787.
These offer direct aisle access and convert to a fully lie-flat bed, although an alternating layout means that half the seats – those next to the aisle – face backwards.
Etihad also holds orders for 25 of Boeing's next-generation 777X series, although Douglas has said it's too early to comment on how the 777X – which isn't expected to begin flying until at least 2023 – may or may not fit into the airline's future fleet plans.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg.