Etihad Airways May Retire A380s, Never Fly A350s

Filed Under: Etihad

Earlier this week Air France announced plans to retire its fleet of nine Airbus A380s effective immediately, making it the first airline in the world to retire its entire super jumbo fleet.

Air France just retired its entire A380 fleet

Now it seems that Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways is at least considering plans to retire its fleet of A380s, and maybe never fly A350s.

Etihad Airways may retire A380s

Reuters reports that Etihad Airways is considering permanently grounding all 10 Airbus A380 aircraft. The airline is reviewing its fleet strategy given the long-term impact that COVID-19 is expected to have on travel demand, as the company’s management expects it will take years to recover.

Etihad’s A380 fleet is an average of under five years old, as the airline took delivery of its first A380 in late 2014, and its most recent A380 in mid 2017.

Etihad Airways A380

The challenge is that the government owned airline was struggling long before the current pandemic, as it has lost about $5.6 billion in the last four years. On the plus side, the losses are getting smaller, and the airline “only” lost $870 million last year.

I wonder how this will play out:

  • On the one hand, the A380 offers a lot more capacity than Etihad will likely need anytime in the next few years
  • On the other hand, I hate to say it, but without the A380 Etihad has virtually no allure as an airline


Of course allure doesn’t pay the bills, but Etihad’s A380 is frankly what makes the airline premium in any way, and without it the airline would be completely forgettable. Etihad has done a phenomenal job with the A380 First Class Apartments, and of course the famous three room suite with butler service, known as The Residence.

Etihad Airways A380 First Class Apartments

Etihad Airways A380 Residence

Etihad Airways may never fly A350s

It’s not just A380 retirement that’s under consideration. Etihad is also allegedly considering never operating any of the Airbus A350s that were ordered several years ago.

Etihad has five confirmed orders for the Airbus A350-1000, and the first one has been ready to go for nearly a year now, and is even painted in Etihad colors. The airline has kept it stored, though.

Last summer, Etihad said it would “re-time the entry into service of five new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft as part of its ongoing business transformation plan,” and we haven’t heard anything further.

Now the airline is at least considering not flying these at all. I imagine that would be a costly decision, given that at least one of the planes is ready to go.

Etihad has already cancelled a massive number of aircraft orders, and this would only be another on that list.

Could we finally see an Emirates & Etihad merger?

For years there has been talk of a merger between Emirates & Etihad:

  • Abu Dhabi and Dubai are just a short 60-90 minute drive apart
  • Dubai World Central is the new airport that Dubai built (though it’s not yet used for Emirates flights), and it’s much closer to Abu Dhabi than the other Dubai Airport

Abu Dhabi Airport, Dubai World Central, Dubai Airport

There’s simply no business sense for the country to have two global airlines so close to one another. However, politics has complicated the situation, as the two airlines are owned by different rulers, and there’s some prestige and ego involved.

While I get why a merger hasn’t happened, if there has ever been a time for the two airlines to merge, this is it — global demand is way down, the airlines are looking at downsizing, etc.

I understand why they didn’t do so when times were good (at least for Emirates), but at this point you’d think there would at least be some discussions surrounding this again…

Bottom line

It’s not surprising that Etihad is keeping all options on the table, given that the airline was already undergoing a transformation before this all started. Etihad is allegedly at least considering retiring A380s and never flying A350s, so we’ll have to see how this unfolds, as a final decision is expected fairly soon.

  1. It’s gonna be interesting to see what Airbus is gonna do: If there are only very few A380 left in service (Emirates, British Airways, ANA) it will become very costly to provide the aftermarket service.
    Airbus could be inclined to axe the program, but they would be in big trouble with ANA as they got a 30 years service guarantee for still picking up new planes.

  2. Ok, I am not an Aviation expert but EY could instead retire some of their 77Ws and give A350 a shot. Like c’mon, every failing airline is able to rake up profits with their A350s. Take the case of Malaysian Airlines, A380 and the crashes created a huge hole in their pocket, but with the A350s, they are in a better place. While I can say, EY is gonna have a hard time selling (they could probably store it to use it in times of peak demand) their A380s. In a while, the A380s could be flooding the second-hand market, and with virtually no customers and full of sellers, A380’s price could drastically fall down (if EK decides to sell their A380s, its gonna get even worse). The merger is not something that can happen now. EK is looking forward to downsizing itself and a merger could mean EK taking over EY’s planes (which is gonna make things even worse). Instead, we could see EK collaborating more with FlyDubai and Etihad collaborating more with WizzAir AbuDhabi or AirArabia AbuDhabi.

  3. Honestly with all the second hand a380s flooding the market soon, I could see BA picking several up – LHR-East Coast is always going to be a huge market. One way to lure customers back is rock bottom fares (with low per seat costs on an a380).

  4. @max Airbus is gonna have to buy ANA out. It will be insane to maintain A380 service in 15 years once EK retires their last A380. ANA knows this and has motivation to keep the planes flying and wait out Airbus. Of course, Airbus can also try waiting out ANA and hope they decide the plane is too costly to keep flying while waiting out Airbus.

  5. More bad news ☹ Still didn’t had a chance to experience apartment or residence. I think there is a demand however since every country has different entry rules and even worse the rules are not clear it’s difficult to travel. Also dates when lifted are not clear. The measures taken area also not clear. I mean what about people who have sometimes a higher body temperature due to being of that age that this happens. And what about woman who also have some slight body temperatures rising every month. Will this prevent them from boarding?
    I personally would like to fly as soon as possible, which I think applies to most of the readers of this blog. The hazmat suites for the crew are probably a deal breaker for me.

  6. Dont care, the residences were unable to be booked with miles. How can this airline do this to their LOYAL frequent fliers? it is our RIGHT

    Am I right guys?

  7. @Dan
    At least that would be good news, Airbus and ANA would most likely agree on a deal to purchase A350 for a very good price. In terms of passenger comfort this would be a big improvement over the 787 and 777.

  8. I really hope EY will not retire their A380s.
    They are truly something special and hope many more people will be able to fly them in the coming years.

  9. NOOOO! We had to cancel our honeymoon trip to the Maldives this year with the Apartments, and are trying to go next April. Should probably just give up at this point. Wouldn’t surprise me though if they do stop, given that Emirates isn’t doing the showers/etc. either. Rats. Well, at least some of you got to experience some really cool flights. Looks like I missed the boat on that one.

  10. I have never flown Etihad so can’t comment on their service, but from what I’ve seen from several sources it’s gone downhill together with increasing losses.

    @Lucky: regarding allure – The Residence and First Apartments are not what makes an airline. It’s like a fancy presidential suite at a hotel, but what makes it breaks a hotel is filling the standard rooms. Same with an airline – offer a network with decent connections is the crucial thing. Etihad can do very well without those two halo products if they are able to compete successfully for traffic. Once things start returning to whatever new normality Etihad will resume operations. While I’ve been happy with the few Emirates flights I’ve taken, their business class is lacklustre at best with their slopey seats and complete zoo of a hub. Qatar and Turkish are significantly better in J, plus of course all the other carriers out there. They’re competing on several fronts, including price. Dropping these two flagship products will, if anything, save significant costs.

  11. I do know the flights ex Sydney on the a380 were often 100% full in business and at least 70% full in F. I was surprised how well business performed, they had a lot of lucrative corporate contracts and wealthy leisure travellers. A close friend of mine worked for the airline and non-reving was quite tricky unless you wanted to fly economy. Hopefully travel will pick up soon, there is a huge demand from Australia to Europe so this should at least require 4-5 frames. Seoul also did surprisingly well with the a380. If not, I am sure there are a few out there who would love their very own ‘apartment’ or better yet, ‘the residence’.

  12. Loved my flight on their A380 from AUH to JFK. Seat was incredibly spacious and comfortable. Bummer.

  13. oh man, that would be a HUGE blow to kill the Etihad A380. It is by far the best looking A380 and has the best cabin BY FAR. I flew it in 2017 and absolutely loved it.

  14. There was nothing wrong with the kickstarter, no one was forced to donate! Think of all the free reviews and tips we have received. Thanks to Ben I learned about Alaska Mileage plan and Lifemiles and have had many CX and LH F flights for the same price of a full fare economy trip. Thanks for all that you have done Ben.

  15. Could Allegiant pick these up for US$19.95 each? A fleet of 30 for $600, including shipping (ferry flight) included.

  16. @John K

    It was just a throwback to readers from ages ago. No harm intended. We all moved on.

  17. I was under the impression that all 5 35K’s were already in storage, not just 1. I remember seeing posts on some aviation Instagram that showed planes 2 & 3 without any interiors last year. I recently saw the 5th one (like you posted.) I could be totally wrong though. Somebody is going to lose some serious $$$.

  18. Adored Etihad’s memorable Residence service–we flew it AUH-LHR back in the heyday (circa 2018), and wanted to pack the experience as much as possible: 2 proper meals, tea service in the lounge, shower, sleep and cinema all in relatively short hop to Heathrow. Service was absolutely impeccable and gorgeous. I do hope they reconsider–perhaps mothball A380 for up to 2 years and then restart it on heavier trunk routes post-vaccine.

  19. Yeah the A380 is great for you because you fly on award tickets. This kind of flying doesn’t make an airline money…

  20. Lots of sad news for me as a 1st world moocher 🙁 I say this because for me, this still is a game And you win some and you lose some

    While I’ve done First with both EY and EK on the A380 – most recently in RTW19 3.0 JFK-DBX-ICN-AUH, I Actually switched out AUH-LHR for AUH-IAD because to me the Etihad B787-9 First Class is practically the same sans the extra space and shower. The 4th shower in a row lost out to convenience and a much bigger window <3 🙂

    OTOH, my recent quest for 1st Class on Qatar is on hold (if not squashed) 🙁
    although the on plane seat is not as flashy, I was going for the Doha Lounge experience and getting a Hat Trick on the Big 3 MEAs. 🙂

    In the meanwhile, I’ll wait. Still potential for lots of fun planes and fancy service once things get back to normal, but it might take awhile. I want the complete experience so I’ll wait. 🙂

    Bottom line, I’m glad I ended up doing 4 RTW trips last year, plus blowout Birthday Weekend in LA last year. 🙂

  21. Very sad to see it possibly go, as I too experienced the apartment back in 2017 AUH-JFK as part of a birthday celebration. It was one of my most memorable experiences on a plane, as well it should be. The shower was fantastic, even if timed, the food delicious and the service impeccable.
    For all of you that gripe that the airline can’t make money on free tickets, try researching that most loyalty programs are big money makers for the airlines. And why shouldn’t we take advantage of trips with miles if they offer them? If I am fortunate enough to have the miles and get the availability for a trip of a lifetime, I will take it.
    Thank you to Ben and all the bloggers out there that advertise these remarkable experiences for us to partake should we be so lucky. Pun intended. There will always be something else to get excited about.

  22. I don’t get it. Why would they choose not to fly their A350s. They are newer/more efficient aircrafts. Shouldn’t that save them money? The decision about the A380 makes sense, but what will they fly then? All that’s left is less efficient than the 350, isn’t it?

  23. Yes @John, of course it’s your right! It’s the 2A(b)(iii) Amendment to the Holy US Constitution, something few know!

  24. This is sad. The Residence was the most spectacular experience I ever had flying. Even beat my very first flight.

    To see A380s go is heartbreaking. It is a special plane, same with the 747s.

    To hear no A350 is sad. Haven’t flown it yet but can’t wait.

    I only flew Etihad twice (RTs) but I enjoyed them.

    Just heartbreaking to see an industry disintegrate. Can’t wait for a vax!! I have massive pent up demand.

  25. @Commenting Commenter

    There’s a lot of costs with bringing a new fleet type into the fold. EY will need to maintain a pool of trained personnel and parts to keep 17 A350-1000s airworthy, which costs money. Keeping those pilots current is another drain, such as writing training programs and simulator expenses.

    Saving money is important to EY as with every other airline in these times. Ditching the A380 and not deploying the A35K would allow the airline to have two pilot pools – one for the A320 family, and one for the 777-300ER, 787-9/10, and 777-9.


    Those A350-1000s may find themselves hard to be sold, as the sweet spot for widebody before COVID was the 787-9/10 and A350-900.

  26. @Glenn T
    Thank you for the positive affirmation. I think it’s a disgrace I cannot redeem my well earned miles for a seat in the Residences! They should make this available for me when empty.

  27. Wow. The market for the 380 has really bottomed out and the second hand or parts market must also be on its knees. There must be some savvy investors out there calculating the viability of buying some for next to nothing. I wonder what’s happening to the one at hi fly???? As for Etihad, I had some amazing flights and experiences in the lounge at Abu Dhabi flying BNE to MAN – would be a shame to loose the big bird

  28. Firstly you CAN get the residence on miles, it’s just a lot of them

    I really do hope that the 380 comes back when the routes reconnect to places such as London

    DWC is though the likely winner out of this so long as Etihad Rail can pull their finger out and lay track to make its position convenient

  29. I’m so glad I got to experience the apartment couple months ago for the first time. Looks like it may be the last time too! Hope EY 380 flies again.

    I can’t help but feel the glory days of flying is behind us for awhile. Until the next boom, I’ll stick with Asian airlines.

  30. If Etihad requires an A380s to be a worthwhile airline it’s already in trouble. These were clearly bought during the “flagship years” which disintegrated rapidly in recent years. The a350s May be challenging now to offload but a good enough deal will have BA or DL probably picking them up, at least through a lessor. With so many A380s fleets dropping, this is starting to become self fulfilling in that now other operators will find it much more expensive to operate which will lead to Emirates and not many others operating them. As much as Dr Peters was pricing themselves on returns for breaking them up, even that will decrease as potential operators bow out.

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