Etihad Airways is not yet ready to fully close the door on the world’s largest passenger jet, the Airbus A380.
CEO Tony Douglas told Insider that market conditions may warrant the temporary revival of the aircraft.Sustainability is a key focus for the airline, however, and any A380 return would be short-lived.
The aviation industry is split on what to do with the Airbus A380 now that travel is rebounding and flyers are expecting the luxuries offered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic on their flights.
Once a status symbol for the world’s airlines, the world’s largest passenger jet was a drain on passenger-deprived airlines in the pandemic’s early days. But the grim outlook in the early days of the pandemic turned into a comeback story as airlines started reviving their A380s.
By the end of the year, six airlines will be flying the A380 including Emirates, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Korean Air, and China Southern Airlines, with airlines like Qantas planning to resume A380 flights in 2022.
Not all airlines will fly the A380 again as the likes of Air France, Malaysia Airlines, Lufthansa, and Thai Airways have sent their A380s away for good.
Etihad Airways, however, isn’t quite ready to fully close the door on its A380s. CEO Tony Douglas told Insider at the Dubai Airshow in November that it’s possible the aircraft will fly again once more under the Etihad brand but only if certain market conditions are met.
“If the economics of it work, they’re back in,” Douglas said of restoring its fleet of 10 Airbus A380s from their current long-term storage. “The traveling public, our guests, loves them, loves the way in which we presented it through our first class, our “Residence,” our business class, and our economy [class.]”
The familiar statement from Douglas reveals the challenge that airlines face with the A380. Airlines and Airbus itself frequently boast how much passengers enjoy flying on the A380, given the abundance of space in all cabins that allows for onboard products not found on smaller aircraft.
Travel demand is currently “going off like a fire hydrant,” Douglas said, but consistently filling 496 seats is the challenge that Etihad faces.
“For the last 18 months, [the A380s are] out because the economics don’t work,” Douglas said.” The market has only really come back in the past two months, it’s probably too early to say.”
Inside an apartment in “The Residence” cabin onboard an Airbus A380.
Travel restrictions still hinder leisure and business trips alike to the countries once served by the aircraft. From Abu Dhabi, Etihad’s A380s flew to destinations including London, Paris, New York, Sydney, and Seoul, South Korea.
“I’d never say never but they’re not in the plan at the moment,” Douglas said. “If the economics don’t work, I’m not a registered charity, they’re out.”
Ultra-premium travelers stand to lose the most as retiring the A380 means retiring The Residence cabin. Only available on the A380, travelers could book $20,000 private apartments in The Residence complete with a bedroom, living room, and butler.
Any comeback for the A380 would be limited until Etihad could grow out its fleets of twin-engine Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350-1000 XWB, both of which are the new backbone as part of a fleet simplification and renewal plan. Sustainability is a primary focus for Etihad moving forward and the Airbus A380 cannot co-exist with the airline’s green future in the long term.
An Etihad Airways Airbus A350-1000 XWB nicknamed the “Sustainable Fifty” at the Dubai Airshow 2021
“If I was ever minded to bring them back, it would have to be business justified in terms of volume and yield but it would then only be a stopgap until we take more deliveries of these,” Douglas, pointing to models of the Boeing and Airbus aircraft, said. “Because the minute I’ve got these, I can then do the same job in a far more efficient way.”