Etihad Posts $1.5 Billion Loss, Considers Cancelling 777X Orders

Filed Under: Etihad

Last week Ben wrote about the sad decline of Etihad Airways. This exact topic has been on my list of topics to write about since Day 1 of joining the team, but I couldn’t have said it better myself. When they released their A380 product and their new ‘Flying Reimagined’ marketing campaign, they were absolute game changers.

Now, I know they are still around but have no real desire to fly them again, especially when I can chase products like QSuites.

I would be amazed if Etihad does not eventually merge with Emirates.

Well the news for Etihad continues to worsen.

Huge Annual Loss

Etihad has released their most recent annual reports and has recorded a loss of 1.5 billion USD in 2017. Although the loss is lower than the 2 billion USD loss they recorded in 2016, for any airline, this is a huge disappointment.

Etihad blames this loss on:

  • rising fuel costs (which all airlines are suffering from, though many other airlines do well in spite of that);
  • the costs of implementing its ambitious cost-cutting program; and
  • the disastrous performance of its Etihad Airways Partners investments, especially airberlin and Alitalia

You may recall that Qantas posted an enormous loss back in 2014, and then embarked on a major cost-cutting and restructuring exercise. Fortunately for them, this worked spectacularly well and the airline is now extremely profitable, and bold CEO Alan Joyce is very respected in the airline industry. While I have high hopes for Etihad’s cost cutting initiatives, they are far more severe than Qantas’ ever were, and may actively turn customers away from choosing them as a premium airline.

Interestingly passenger numbers did not increase at all, and average load factors were only 78.5%. As a guide, of those airline who publish annual load factors, all of the top 30 airlines had load factors of over 83%.

At least if the current loss has reduced by 25%, it shows that the plan is working, but they still have a long way to go to return to profitability, and I’m not sure how many more cuts their customers can endure before they start to look elsewhere. Etihad managed to cut costs by 7.3% while its revenue rose by less than 2%.

I’ll be very interested to see if their load factors have dropped further next year, though chances are that they’re addressing that by cutting some capacity.

There’s not much I can say about Etihad Airways Partners that hasn’t already been said. Etihad wasted hundreds of millions of dollars investing in unprofitable airlines that continue to be unprofitable, causing Etihad to lose most, if not all of their investments.

Boeing 777X Orders

While Emirates and Qatar have been rapidly expanding and adding new destinations, Etihad has not. I’ve realised I’ve hardly seen a new Etihad destination in years, while they’ve continued to cut routes and reduce frequencies. They have only received a handful of new aircraft over the past 12 months, and these have been mostly to replace retired aircraft, rather than growing their fleet.

Etihad is a launch customer of the long-awaited Boeing 777X model, which will eventually replace the very popular Boeing 777-300 model. Etihad has 25 777X aircraft on order, which have a list price of $426 million each.

Qatar and Emirates are also launch customers of this model.

Reuters is now reporting that Etihad is considering cancelling, or deferring some, or all of their 777X orders. Etihad has 160 aircraft on order (both Airbus and Boeing) worth tens of billions of dollars, but given their financial troubles you have to wonder when they will take any of these.

Bottom line

Deferring aircraft orders when an airline is under intense financial strain is a sensible option. Qantas deferred their 787 orders for years, as Alan Joyce remained firm that the airline would not spend money on new long-haul aircraft until the airline returned to profitability.

This was a prudent decision and worked well, and Qantas is now making record profits.

A big difference between Qantas and Etihad’s turnaround strategies, is that Qantas only made very minimal cuts to the customer experience, that were hardly noticed by passengers and turned few away. The cost cutting at Etihad has been so severe already that it is tarnishing their good name and reputation so much, that they may struggle to retain their customer base.

Do you still consider Etihad an aspirational airline?

  1. EY is finally adding Barcelona, which seems to be a weird city to leave out until now, given how much of a tourist attraction it is. At the same time, they’re cutting Edinburgh flights, which makes sense as EK is adding.

    They can’t compete with Emirates’s scale, pockets and image, and they can’t compete with Qatar’s younger and more nimble fleet (QR’s 788s specifically are enabling them to serve cities they would otherwise never be able to) enable them to grow faster than EY ever could. Qatar seems to be willing to spend more,in order to maintain their premium image, seemingly at least until the WC 2022, so Al Baker has a couple years more to make his airline profitable; right now it sort of feels like a bottom feeder despite its class-leading business; I’ve never really heard anyone fly QR because “it’s the best” – usually they fly QR because “it’s the cheapest”. On the other hand, people do fly EK and SQ for the luxury.

  2. Note to self: do not invest huge sums of money into the airline industry

    It all seriousness, they were following the Hunter Strategy of Swissair. Which ended up bankrupting Swissair. I’ve been saying that for years

  3. @ WP – wow – I didn’t realise they didn’t serve BCN until now! I was there today and saw the EK A380 which seemed like a natural fit for such a huge tourist attraction.

  4. the amazing airport service and upon the moon lounges sound great but the reality is that everybody who pays for airfare, tries to look for a Southwest ticket bargain. Specially the long haul South Continental Asia expatriates. That champange and caviar aint cheap.

    Lufthansa and Air France have huge government subsidies. These are flag carriers.
    They represent these nation in the air first. They can afford to cater to wealthy travelers.

    So, Mr Arab Sheikhs, start donating some moolah and keep Etihad as the grand marketing symbol of Abu Dhabi.

  5. Ah yes, the cost of cost-cutting. Maybe in order to cut costs they should not do any cost-cutting.

  6. @ Jorge Lufthansa and Air France do not receive subsidies as this is against EU legislation

  7. @ WP

    “I’ve never really heard anyone fly QR because “it’s the best””

    You never read Lucky’s posts then?

    He thinks QR is the world’s best business class. Period.

    I think QR Qsuites is without question the world’s best business class, and their reverse herringbone (A359) is probably the world’s 2nd best business class.

    Where they operate those products they are my first choice airline. No question. EK and EY aren’t even in the same league.

  8. Etihad splashed too much cash on pointless projects. Air Berlin, Alitalia, Darwin Air, Air Seychelles etc. all went horrible for them.

    Then there’s the extreme investment and growth that happened within 10-15 years. I flew Etihad (being rebooked by another airline after a technical) in the mid ’00s and economy was dreadful. Other legacy carriers were leaps and bounds ahead of them in terms of comfort and amenities (even in economy).

    They did upgrade their product and grew quite a bit since then. I do however suspect that it was way too quick. Qatar awaits a similar faith if the blockade continues.

  9. I’m still questioning whether EY was a game changer. After all, they had over 6 years of research to observe other commercial A380 operators like SQ and EK before they debuted the EY A380 in December 2014.
    For economy passengers, 78% loads is great! As far as aspiration goes, the first class apt is still amazing. Even before 2014 EY has had issues with running out of food in F. I’ve flown both in EY and will admit I have no desire to fly them again but I also haven’t really flown to the middle east this past year. I hope EY can go past this and do well again.

  10. “I’m still questioning whether EY was a game changer.”

    I think at this point, it is safe to say it isn’t/wasn’t.

  11. Honestly…if this was any other line of business they would be bankrupt.

    Just a cool 3.5 BILLION dollar loss in the last 2 years.
    Great business model.

  12. I wonder if the UAE government will reconsider US preclearance at AUH if Etihad’s decline continues. AUH is the only preclearance facility primarily funded by the “host” government; the others are primarily funded by CBP. I think under the current bilateral agreement the facility can be terminated with 12 months notice by either side. It doesn’t seem to have provided the competitive advantage Abu Dhabi was hoping for; I know as many people who avoid AUH because it is as choose AUH because of it. (Certainly for a US citizen with GE it offers little advantage, though that’s presumably not the bulk of the traffic out of AUH to the US.) And Emirates and Qatar have been pretty clear they have no interest in preclearance at Dubai or Doha (let the inevitable customs and immigration delays for some pax be CBP’s problem stateside, not the airline’s problem at the point of origin…).

  13. @ jorge:
    Lufthansa doesn‘t receive government subsidies – unlike Air France, the German government offloaded their last remaining minority stake in LH 20+ years ago.

  14. On the up side. I fly bne – man regularly ( or Syd – man on Qatar) when I fly with Etihad, I get a cheap price and normally 3 seats to lie down in economy as the plane is 1/3 full. Not great for them but brilliant for me

  15. James, love you but for the love of god, please do not turn into the writers at AusBT and italicise and bold every other sentence. It is just not good writing.

  16. How a fuel cost will be a
    One of the problem when they are sitting in the middle of oil well in the Middle East. The cheapest in the world?
    As a matter of fact that should be one of their advantage.

  17. @andrew

    Airplanes also need to refuel at the destination 🙂

    Anyways, this is no surprise really as stated above, they are doing the same juvenile strategy as Swissair…

  18. Jet Airways is the only profitable airline in Etihad Partners. It did help Etihad in a way but anyway they aren’t surviving the next 5,10 years if no one helps them.

  19. EY doesn’t get it and they aren’t good copying competitors… if EK and SQ can’t justify having a “Residence” wasting so much space onboard, what makes EY think they can? I wonder who was the genius who thought it was a good idea to deploy a 3-class A330-300 AUH MLE where F is often empty or with 1-2 pax (I would know since I have taken this flight numerous times). Then again, shouldn’t be surprising since EY hired highly untalented Network Planning staff from United, which we all know is a terrible airline. Moreover, I can somewhat give EY the benefit of the doubt for investing in airberlin, but common sense should have told them to stay away from Alitalia.

  20. Everyone keeps on talking about an EK / EY merger and saying it’s inevitable but fail to understand the local politics involved which will never allow that to happen (two hub airports within 50 minutes of each other, different Emirates and governments involved). I also don’t see the strategic rationale for EK to merge besides taking out a competitor which if they watch long enough, EY may go away anyway and there are other headaches to integration that don’t make sense such as fleet and service differences.

    If you look at the financials, I’d argue that EYs results have deteriorated this year. Last years loss was due to one offs according to them such as a billion writedown on revaluing aircraft and another $800m writedown on their partnership stakes. Those were supposed to be one offs, so if you normalize it, they should have broken even this year. The fact that they lost $1.5bn this year on their core operations (ie numbers adjusted for one offs) is really scary!

  21. For Europe Asia why on earth would anyone want to change planes in the middle of the night if there is a decent alternative? The hard product for business travellers on other airlines was so poor that they weren’t sleeping anyway, but that is changing. Emirates is fortunate that Dubai is a destination in itself.

    A ME hub has offered fuel savings over point-to-point which allowed ME airlines to be inefficient but as fuel efficiency of planes improves the quantum of the advantage slips away. Etihad needs to cut costs just to stand still – which is what the figures sort of show.

    It is good to take something pretty radical to change the Etihad fundamentals

  22. James,

    Using QF as an example to show how to bounce back from major losses is really only half the story. The key difference is how they arrived at these mega losses.

    Alan Joyce intentionally magnified the loss at QF by writing down the value of the fleet as a strategy to a create sense of crisis in the company and illicit change in the business. He did not shoot the golden goose in finding a way out of the confected crisis he created. So cutbacks were done on unprofitable routes and in areas that would have been contentious in normal times. He never touched the passenger experience because that impacted long term profitability. All in it was a smart strategy if really just business 101.

    On the other hand EY arrived here by incompetence. In their investments and their route decisions. So should it come as any surprise that their attempts to find their way out of the hole that they have dug for themselves are equally incompetent.

  23. A small typo: “but given their financial troubles you have to wonder *when* they will take any of these”

    It was supposed to be “whether” instead of “when”, I suppose 😉

  24. Interesting article. I would warn about too great a parallel with Qantas. They have a huge domestic network on which they make a considerable chunk of their profits. For years their international operation bled money. The game changer for that is likely to be if when they get a plane that they can fly east coast to Europe / east coast of the states, without stopping. Etihad operate a hub and spoke model and as such are competing directly with others in close proximity (Emirates and Qatar) who seem to do it smarter (if not better). The absence of a profitable domestic market makes a huge difference.

  25. The irony of a company owned by an OPEC state losing money due to rising fuel prices caused by OPEC production cuts.

  26. EY was just ill-conceived from the beginning and never had a chance. Non-flyers know Emirates and non-travelers know Dubai… when they’re that close together with no competitive advantage… the fate was already decided.

    Other than people who live there, nobody wants to go to AUH more than DXB. And nobody (other than us, just for fun) would rather fly EY than EK. It would be like choosing United Domestic First into SNA over JetBlue Mint into LAX when you need to be downtown… DUH.

  27. James, seriously, if you can’t muster an analysis which does anything more than skim the surface, with ridiculously unsubstantiated statements, leave the travel writing to a real journalist or stick to the usual trite reviews, etc.

    You are WAY OUT OUT OF YOUR DEPTH FELLA!!! Apart from just plain bad writing, you’ll end up getting your employer a law suit if you’re not careful.

    One of your previous articles potentially defamatory about QF consolidating flights out of CBR due to low loadings. Did that get pulled?!

    Your statement “Qantas only made very minimal cuts to the customer experience, that were hardly noticed by passengers and turned few away” is absolute nonsense.

    For example, QF cut 250 call centre staff (ironically their salaries equaling the bonus of your hero, Joyce): call wait times now can approach the hour mark – no serious business makes its customers wait that long to make a sale. I ring many airlines and QF is the worst for call wait times. The supposed call back option not always offered.

    Have you read the feedback on the SIN lounge situation on AusBT? How do you expect QF to compete with SQ with substandard premium product, lack of daytime flights back to Australia, an overcrowded lounge, a fraction of the flight schedule, etc., and a patch up piecemeal of codeshares?

    Have you considered the insanity of Joyce promoting a capacity war with VA? That was plain idiocy!

    You have NO DATA to make your claims about no pax loss to QF. if you have, publish the data!!! That would be a GREAT STORY!!! Even QF probably doesn’t account for pax loss – it’s customer service feedback process simply won’t be sampling lost pax.

    As for EY…stating that you have “no desire to fly them again” is just plain stupid. So you’re justifying your article on a personal / emotional position and denying yourself direct experience? As a travel writer?! Nuts.

    I recently flew SYD-AUH and AUH-CDG in F on AA points and there was nothing wrong the service or hard product. It was the equal of any in the market. Excellent and enjoyable.

    You really think that Joyce is doing good job at QF? Have you factored in the blatant contradiction in your statements – no new aircraft, but it’s ok for JQ to have new aircraft and short older A330s to QF?!

    The misadventures in Asia with JQ?

    The huge fleet renewal problem he has created?

    The risk of the EK agreement falling over?

    Has EY written off its misadventures – to what extent to they account for the supposed losses? Where’s the analyses of that?

    Do have any idea about the relative wealth and relationship between the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

    Have you seen the progress to the new airport at AUH?

    Your ignorance is astounding!

    Like I said, you are way out of your depth.

  28. I just flew EY SYD-ATH. Outstanding service, great sophisticated hard product, makes Emirates look clownish by comparison with their 2-3-2 non-flat seats and all that bling.

    I think EY is not charging enough for J, at least ex-Aus. Full J on both flights but cheaper by thousands than QF or EK.

  29. In addition to @Paul’s comments on the QF comparison: The Qantas turnaround is not based on the profitability of the international division ( all they have done there is minimise the ( previously astronomical) losses. The real money for QF comes from the ‘rivers of gold’ domestic routes ( MEL-SYD-BNE), among the busiest sectors in the world; and from the frequent flyer program. Etihad has neither.

  30. @platy, give @james a break here. I don’t think you really understand what it takes to deliver what you expect. No disrespect to OMAAT or James here, but this is not the Sydney Morning Herald, which gets people to pay money to read articles (plus receiving considerable advertising revenue).

    James has to write an article almost every day which is easier said than done. And let’s face it, he’s not getting paid thousands per article, like professional journalists/contributors can. At the end of the day, it’s a great website that gives excellent information on our favourite topic.

    I’d like to see you live by example and spend your time researching so deeply that it will take you a couple of days to assemble an article, while trying to present information for readers and earn some money too! I know this because I am also a contributing writer and have written for airline blogs/websites in the past. Don’t forget you are reading this with no financial input.

    As for QF’s call wait times, I agree with you there. But having lived in the US for over a year now, this is normal for any American company, so QF probably followed their model.

  31. @ Dennis

    “I don’t think you really understand what it takes to deliver what you expect”.

    Incorrect. Yes, I do know exactly what it takes to deliver. I have worked as a writer and editor.

    “the Sydney Morning Herald…gets people to pay money to read articles”

    Factually incorrect. The SMH (Fairfax) has a generous amount of online content which is free. Fees kick in after a certain amount of articles read per month. In many case, their content may not even be sourced in house (e.g. content reproduced and rewritten from other sources).

    The Guardian’s content is entirely free and offers well researched material.

    “I’d like to see you live by example and spend your time researching so deeply that it will take you a couple of days to assemble an article”

    Actually it can be done far more quickly and efficiently than you propose, especially if you are writing to a narrow field of expertise (as is supposedly the case herein). I do this myself professionally and been repeatedly re-engaged as a consultant to do just that.

    “he’s not getting paid thousands per article, like professional journalists/contributors can.”

    I’ll take a wager that you don’t have any idea what the rate of pay is for an article on this blog so your argument is based on presumption. In any case, professional Journos are probably earning far less than you imply. Whatever their rate of pay, they still have to attempt to meet certain standards, which include not making statements, which are unsubstantiated or potentially libellous.

    “it’s a great website that gives excellent information on our favourite topic.”

    Absolutely. And I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. So don’t mount a counter argument against something I haven’t claimed. We agree on that point.

    Perhaps two articles attempting to trash Etihad in a matter of days is editorially misguided?

    “I’d like to see you live by example and spend your time researching so deeply that it will take you a couple of days to assemble an article, while trying to present information for readers and earn some money too!”

    I can and I do. For corporate gigs with billions of dollars of funding on the line. It shouldn’t take a couple of days to research the substance of the scope of the article under discussion especially for someone claiming an extensive experience and expertise.

    “Don’t forget you are reading this with no financial input.”

    An article on this blog will do no favours for its owners if a libel case is invoked by careless content. Surely you would agree that you can’t go about publishing statements without fact or foundation? Would you publish a statement that QF is cancelling flights because of poor loadings without a source or source document to back up your claim?

    “As for QF’s call wait times, I agree with you there.”

    So then you agree that the article was factually incorrect in making the claim that the cost cutting at QF has had no impact on customers?!

    Do you think that the article’s core argument is correct (Etihad bad, QF good), well presented (factually backed up) / well argued, unbiased (when the author starts off by saying they’ll never fly an airline again?!).

    “But having lived in the US for over a year now, this is normal for any American company, so QF probably followed their model”

    We’re talking about an airline not any American company. Whereas I don’t I’ve in the US, I do ring a range of airlines fairly regularly. My calls are answered within minutes by American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Avianca, Virgin Australia, United, Hawaiian, etc.

    The two outliers in my recent experience are QF and Air New Zealand.

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