After months of speculation, Etihad Airways has today (December 9) officially confirmed that it will be flying the Airbus A380 once again. While some details are still to be finalised, Key Aero has gathered everything you need to know about the return of the iconic super jumbo.
Q: When will Etihad start flying the A380 again?
A: Etihad has said the super jumbo will be flying next year, although exact dates are not yet locked in. Its publicity materials state the A380 will return in “summer 2023”, although it is unclear if this could mean the traditional start of the summer season schedules, which kick in at the end of March.
Q: Are all of Etihad’s A380 returning?
A: Sadly not. A statement from the company has said that a total of four A380s will be phased back into the fleet during 2023. This leaves a further six examples which are officially still being stored by the Abu Dhabi-based carrier.
Q: Will the Etihad A380 return to all of its former routes?
A: No, at least not initially. In an interesting move, the airline has confirmed that Abu Dhabi to London/Heathrow will be the sole route for the super jumbo. Even when four Etihad A380s are back in operation, the likes of Sydney, Paris and Seoul – all destinations served by the double-decker before the pandemic – will remain as single-decker routes.
Q: Hang on a minute, didn’t the Etihad CEO say it was very unlikely the A380 would return?
A: In a word, yes, but there’s lots of extra context to consider. In the past few months Tony Douglas, the CEO of the Etihad Aviation Group has stood down (and is off to launch a new carrier in Saudi Arabia). In his place is former TAP Air Portugal chief Antonoaldo Neves, who joined the UAE firm in October 2022. It’s unclear if the change of leadership has spurred on the move or if this has been in the works for some time.
Click here to hear what Douglas told Key Aero about the A380 earlier in the year.
Q: So what are current management saying about the return?
A: Reading between the lines, it appears that the financials now stack up for returning the quad-jet to the fleet. His Excellency Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa, Chairman, Etihad Aviation Group, said in a press statement released on December 9: “It is wonderful to announce the return of this splendid aircraft. The A380’s reintroduction provides a further boost to Etihad’s capacity into the key UK market, with a knock-on effect for the wider GCC and Indian subcontinent that will bring more visitors to the city of Abu Dhabi.”
Meanwhile, Neves added: “We have decided the time is right to return some of our A380s into the fleet to satisfy the demand which has made them financially viable once more. We look forward to welcoming our guests again on board this remarkable aircraft.”
Q: What’s so special about Etihad’s A380?
A: While almost every aviation enthusiast is able to appreciate the sheer scale of the superjumbo, it’s fair to say that they aren’t all made equal. The most notable element of Etihad’s A380s is ‘The Residence’, a one-of-a-kind, three-room suite, complete with private bathroom.
The airline’s press team has raised eyebrows, with a slightly cryptic statement that suggests changes may be on the way to how The Residence operates, saying: “For the first time, Etihad plans to eventually offer The Residence as an optional extra for guests to further enhance their First experience.” Key Aero will update this feature as more detail is available.
Elsewhere on the upper deck, the jet is also equipped with a further three more traditional cabin classes including nine First Apartments. These breathtaking spaces are set across a single-aisle and offer a private living space with a large leather lounge chair and an ottoman which opens up to become a separate 80.5in long fully-flat bed. Alongside these top-tier products, there are 70 Business Studios (similar to those on the 787 Dreamliner) and 405 Economy Smart seats, of which 80 are ’Economy Space’ seats with a seat pitch of up to 36in.
Q: Sounds great! How can I get a seat on board?
A: Etihad has already started amending its Heathrow schedules, with select dates and flights now listed as being operated by the A380 on the airline’s website. As further examples rejoin the fleet and timelines become clearer, the total number of services listed as A380-operated will grow. Keep an eye on Key.Aero for further details and insights on the return of the jet.