Earlier this year we saw most airlines operating the A380 ground these fleets due to lack of demand.
In recent months, two airlines have even retired the aircraft type altogether — Air France has retired its entire A380 fleet, while Lufthansa intends on retiring its A380 fleet, with the planes only being reactivated “in the event of an unexpectedly rapid market recovery.”
Air France has retired its entire A380 fleet
Well, Etihad Airways’ CEO has now chimed in on the future of the A380 fleet at the Abu Dhabi-based airline.
The future of Etihad’s Airbus A380s?
There have been a lot of questions about the future of Etihad’s A380 fleet, which has been grounded for around six months now. The airline has a fleet of 10 super-jumbos, which are an average of under five years old — Etihad took delivery of its first A380 in late 2014, and its most recent A380 in mid 2017.
Well, there’s an update on this front… sort of. Etihad Airways has launched a podcast called Altitudes, and the first guest was Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas. In the podcast, Douglas talks about the future of Etihad’s A380 fleet.
Here’s what Douglas says about the A380:
“So, everybody loves the A380. It’s resounding. You know, the product that it presents, and the grace in which it does so. It was, for such a long time the pinnacle, the industry leader. The question as to whether they’ll ever fly again, to be equally direct about it, I’d say the jury’s out.
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. So I’m not trying to rule out the A380, it would break my heart even more to do so at this stage. But in the same way that 747s have finally been retired pretty much everywhere, I think we’re probably going to see now an acceleration of the same with the global A380 fleet.”
Will we ever see the Etihad A380 fly again?
Etihad Aviation Group CEO Tony Douglas joins us on the first episode Altitudes – our new podcast – to answer this and many other tough questions affecting travel today.
— Etihad Airways (@etihad) September 30, 2020
So yeah, officially Etihad hasn’t made a decision one way or another about the A380. However, reading between the lines, to me it seems more likely than not that Etihad will retire its A380 fleet, because those comments don’t sound like they’re coming from someone who sees a future for the plane at his airline.
Even if the Etihad A380 does make a return, it sounds fairly likely that it won’t be in the coming months.
Etihad Airways A380
Etihad’s problem: A380 halo effect vs. cost cutting
Etihad is in a particularly tricky spot when it comes to the A380, given that the carrier’s business model has gone from one extreme to the other.
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 (at least pre-pandemic), and the airline “only” lost $870 million last year.
Going back several years, Etihad wanted to become a major global carrier, and Etihad thought there was a massive “halo effect” and allure associated with the Airbus A380. Now Etihad is trying to become more of a niche airline, primarily serving travelers going to & from Abu Dhabi. The airline is also trying to work its way towards profitability.
How does the A380 fit into Etihad’s plans?
- On the one hand, the A380 offers a lot more capacity than Etihad will likely need anytime in the next few years, and heck, more capacity than it may ever need, if it wants to primarily be a niche airline serving Abu Dhabi
- On the other hand, I hate to say it, but without the A380, Etihad has limited 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 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 hasn’t made a decision one way or another on the future of the Airbus A380. The CEO says that the jury is still out, but also acknowledges that the plane has a “handicap,” and that we’ll likely see retirement of the A380 accelerated around the world.
Etihad is indeed in a tricky spot, as it transitions from wanting to be a global airline competing with Emirates, to being more of a niche airline that minimizes losses.
What do you think — will Etihad’s A380 fly again?