Etihad Airways has reportedly just restarted crew training on its Airbus A380, the most significant sign yet that the Abu Dhabi-based airline is preparing to return the double-deck superjumbo to the skies in the very near future.
Like many airlines, Etihad grounded its 10-strong fleet of A380s at the start of the pandemic in early 2020 as passenger numbers tumbled and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) slammed shut its borders.
Etihad eventually sent its A380s into deep storage at special facilities in France and Spain where they were to be ‘indefinitely grounded’, although the then chief executive Tony Douglas warned that they may never be reactivated.
For Douglas, the quad-engined gas-guzzling A380 was an extravagant expense that was hard to justify when the airline was trying to claw back from a mammoth $1.87 billion loss in 2016.
At the same time, Douglas was trying to improve Etihad’s sustainability credentials, focusing the airline’s future around the far more efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350. While it was popular with passengers, the A380 just didn’t fit into Douglas’ vision for the airline.
But with demand showing no sign of abating and a worldwide backlog of new airframes, it appears that Etihad is preparing to reactivate at least some of the A380 fleet.
As noted by aviation insider @MZulqarnainBut1 on Twitter, Etihad has just started retraining crew on the A380 as part of a months-long process. Zulqarnain B reports that the aircraft will return to the skies in Etihad livery next year and that a date is set to be confirmed ‘soon’.
Etihad has, however, already sold four of its A380s, leaving six that can be returned to service. It’s not known, however, whether Etihad intends to bring back its luxurious three-room ‘Residence’ class, although the airline no longer has butlers or F&B managers.
As for potential routes for the Etihad A380, expect the airline to use the aircraft in premium capacity-constrained markets, including London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Sydney.
The airline is yet to officially confirm the future of its A380 fleet.
Many Airbus A380 operators used the pandemic as a reason to retire the aircraft or reduce their active fleet, including the likes of Air France and Singapore Airways, although Emirates remains committed to its A380s and British Airways has already returned its entire 12-strong fleet to the skies.
Lufthansa also plans to reactivate some of its A380s next year, and Qatar Airways continues to operate the aircraft despite chief executive Akbar Al Baker calling the A380 one of his biggest mistakes.
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.