Things just seem to be getting worse by the week for Etihad Airways, with announcements of route closures and onboard cutbacks coming thick and fast. And now we’ve heard a rumour – reportedly confirmed by four sources familiar with the matter – that Etihad is on the brink of cancelling or substantially changing dozens of aircraft orders.
Originally reported by Reuters, executives at both American aerospace giant, Boeing and pan-European aircraft manufacturer, Airbus are preparing for the worst as Etihad Group chief executive, Tony Douglas continues a major strategic review of the business. He recently said he would look to grow Etihad in “a sustainable way.”
The orders for up to 140 new aircraft, worth hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars at list prices, were made several years ago as Etihad embarked on a rapid and ambitious expansion plan. It came at a time when the Abu Dhabi-based airline tried to compete with its much bigger competitors in the form of Emirates and Qatar Airways.
Etihad had opened dozens of new routes in just a few short years and made huge investments in a number of foreign airlines. The idea had been to use these so-called equity partner airlines as a way of funnelling more passengers into the Etihad route network in order to fuel its own expansion.
Unfortunately, things have gone seriously sour, with both Italian airline, Alitalia and airberlin filing for bankruptcy last year. In 2016, Etihad lost a staggering $1.87 billion, partly on the back of its failed investments.
Since then, the carrier has been forced to drop a number of routes and it appears that Douglas is scaling back Etihad’s expansion plans on a huge scale – although he maintains the airline won’t turn into a “boutique” airline but rather a carrier “of choice.” He claims Etihad is currently benefiting from “very solid” load factors.
Many of the orders were placed in 2013 when things were looking a lot more positive for Etihad. Airbus has orders for 88 aircraft on its books which include:
- 26 A321neo narrowbody aircraft
- 40 next-generation A350-900 aircraft
- 22 stretched A350-1000 aircraft
Meanwhile, Boeing currently reports unfilled orders for 78 aircraft, including:
- 22 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft
- 30 of the stretched 787-10 Dreamliner
- 25 next-generation 777X aircraft
- 1 cargo aircraft – 777F
Etihad could choose to delay deliveries, swap aircraft models or even cancel some of the deliveries altogether. However, all the companies involved have refused to be drawn on the rumours. A spokesperson for Boeing said the company does “not comment on delivery schedules nor any discussions with customers.”
Interestingly, this rumour could tie in with the news that Etihad has dropped hundreds of cabin crew hopefuls in the last week. Many successful candidates had been waiting to start training courses with the airline when their applications were suddenly withdrawn last week.
Recruiters working for Etihad have said they don’t envisage the airline recruiting any new cabin crew until at least 2019. Of course, you need planes for cabin crew to work on so these two pieces of news could well be connected.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.