Sad: Etihad “Very Likely” To Retire A380 Fleet

Filed Under: Etihad

Roughly a year ago we saw most airlines operating the A380 ground these fleets due to lack of demand. Since then, both Air France and Lufthansa have announced plans to permanently retire their entire A380 fleets. Meanwhile Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines have announced a partial retirement of their A380 fleets, while other airlines haven’t made a decision one way or another.

Air France has retired its entire A380 fleet

If Etihad Airways’ CEO is to be believed, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Abu Dhabi-based airline will follow the lead of Air France and Lufthansa.

Etihad “very likely” to retire A380

There have been a lot of questions about the future of Etihad’s A380 fleet, which has been grounded for nearly a year now. The airline has a fleet of 10 super-jumbos, which are an average of around five years old — Etihad took delivery of its first A380 in late 2014, and its most recent A380 in mid 2017.

So, what’s the latest on Etihad’s A380 fleet? It’s not looking good. Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas has stated in an interview that it’s “very likely” that the A380 won’t operate for Etihad again. To quote him directly:

“We have now taken the strategic decision to park the A380s, I’m sure it’s very likely that we won’t see them operating with Etihad again.”

Just for some context, roughly six months ago Douglas stated that Etihad hadn’t made a decision one way or another regarding the future of 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.”

It’s pretty clear how Etihad’s thinking on this is evolving, and at this point I’d be shocked if the airline does bring back the A380.

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, and has lost over $6 billion in the last five years.

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 (even though that will never happen — the airline will always be primarily reliant on connecting travelers to fill seats). 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 several 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

Bottom line

While no official announcement has been made, at this point Etihad’s CEO has stated that it’s “very likely” that the airline will retire its A380 fleet. Just six months ago the airline didn’t seem as certain, so to me this suggests that Etihad will retire its A380 fleet.

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.

I’ve gotta say, I’d be super bummed if Etihad retired the A380. Etihad has such a stunning configuration on the A380, and to me this will truly mark the end of the “good old days” of Etihad.

Anyone see any hope for the Etihad A380?

(Tip of the hat to @spencerformiles)

  1. Airlines retiring A380s and 747s should be sued for attempting to get more profit instead of providing maximum passenger comfort. I personally would be more than happy to file a class action accusing them of putting profit first.

  2. Probably the best luxury product on an A380 for sure, but not surprising at all for this airline and its business model, which struggles at the best of times.

  3. @Anthony
    I’m with you. Have cancelled Maldives honeymoon twice and now, unfortunately permanently. (still married, just no honeymoon).

  4. The industry is going to have to rethink everything going forward. The reduction in business travel, demand for leisure travel and increased demand for point to point service are going to change travel in a major way. At this point, everything needs to be in play, from reconsidering traditional hubs to the onboard product to transforming loyalty programs. It’s going to be interesting to see how airlines adapt, remaining attractive to those remaining business travelers while also becoming more accessible to leisure travelers.

  5. I flew the business class product a few years ago and it was fantastic. So spacious. Great design. Food and beverage were great, but not the best. Still one of my favorite hard products. Will miss it, along with the side storage containers on the upper level.

  6. Would be interested to see percentage of actual bookings of the Residence and if something like this product would be worthwhile on a 777 or 787. I could see the apartments being redesigned for a 777 enhancing the existing First class offering…OR some kind of all premium aircraft with Residence, Apartments and business class on a 787.

    Then there is the Emirates/Etihad option …

  7. I finally got around to flying the A380 Apartment in Nov 2019 from SYD-AUH. Of course I did not know the pandemic was just a few months away. I was looking forward to flying the A380 Apartment again someday. Very sad that it won’t happen.

  8. I had F apartments booked for my honeymoony last August…wish I would have gotten married one year earlier. Sad I’ll probably never get to try them out.

  9. They A380s will not return, simple as. Etihad for 3+ years have been looking at ways of replacing them. There main purpose was for US-Asia/SWP traffic and EU-Auz/Asia traffic with the expectation of Emiratesesque loyalty and passenger numbers. Sadly Etihad never quite won over the Australian demographic with the vast majority preferring Emirates thanks to the JV with Qantas. IMO Etihad will become a Kuwait Airlines/Oman Air/Gulf Air type carrier who won’t appeal to the masses. LCC’s with the A321NEO will be the winner from this, i.e Wizz Air!

  10. I was so lucky to be on one for the first time Feb 2020 right before world shuts down. I was most impressed with their menu as everything was very detailed with lots of options. If you want a steak, they ask you how done you want it to be and what sauce you want it to come with. Most first class only ask your how done you want your steak to be at best! Thank you AA miles!

  11. Etihad will become Gulf Air 2.0, so sad…
    With their statement that the 787 will become the backbone of the fleet, I wonder how they plan to provide feed from the region. Will they still have A320s? If not, who will provide the feed? And will they be LCC or Full Service Carrier in Economy? I have flown them in their LCC phase, and the experience was horrible.

  12. To the people asking about the residence:
    Etihad did make them profitable, in the end. The occupancy was a lot better than people might think.
    (In the end this was just a F-Class seat with an extra room that otherwise just stays unused on the A380……).

  13. Lucky, not sure if you saw the report last week, but Etihad reported a loss of $1.7 billion for 2020. Since 2016, they’ve racked up $7.3 billion in losses.

    Abu Dhabi pride and deep pockets keep Etihad going….but for how long?

  14. I never got to fly it! 🙁 I was waiting for myself to turn 18 so that I can get a ‘true’ Residence experience from JFK to SYD. Well, I turned 18 in 2020 and now the Rez is gone :(((

  15. @Brian W, you were joking, right?

    @Michael’s comment about Etihad becoming Gulf Air 2.0 sounds about right.

    I can’t see a rationale for them to exist given Qatar and Emirates adjacent hubs. At minimum they needed to have embraced an alliance partnership (not the silly one that they tried to create by investing in unprofitable airlines), but that’s now too late.

    As for the A380, it’s simple economics…see ya.

  16. I flew SYD-AUH in Y class on an Etihad A380 in August 2019. It was my first ever flight with Etihad. I’d made a special effort to sample Etihad and the A380, and I’m so glad I did, especially in hindsight. It was a very pleasant flight, as was my connecting trip to AMS on a 777.

  17. When Air Canada partnered with Etihad last June I immediately booked an F class reward flight from YUL to MLE via AUH for late 2020. Within hours it became obvious that the flight would no longer be using the A380 so I had to cancel – it never would have worked anyway.

    It was one of only a few opportunities to travel in Etihad F on the 380 and will miss the opportunity.

    I suspect that if the vaccines show resistance to the new variants that extensive travel will resume for at least some special markets sooner than we expect. I hope that some of these high density markets might be able to sustain an A380 flight and that we will get the opportunity to fly it once more. I was lucky to fly Concorde the summer it stopped flying. I would love to fly the Apartment as well.

    Incidentally the points were refunded but Air Canada refused to refund the booking fees (booking EY required an agent) even though the flight changed completely and restrictions prevented flying.

  18. Inevitable. I am surprised why everyone is surprised. All the airlines are cutting on the jumbos. Emirates has so many of them that has only one option which is to retire them earlier. But as I am aware there is not a single airline in the world which is not either grounding them for good or resizing the jumbo fleet. For those with a limited number it’s the easiest thing to do, BA, LH, AF, are all moving in the same direction. The market for the 747s and 380s didn’t look promising earlier than the COVID pandemic, so certain decisions are simply happening faster. That’s all. I am not at all surprised. Saddened yes. But not surprised.

  19. Air travel and premium travel will bounce back faster than most people think, I am convinced of that. In fact, 12 months from now passenger travel will be at record levels. Would bet money on it. The author of this report is absolutely right, the premium offering on the A380 was a huge draw for this airline (in a competitive world), take that away and what is the USP of Etihad??

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