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
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)