Etihad Plans To Start Flying Airbus A350s In 2022

Etihad Airways has five Airbus A350-1000s, which have been delivered to the airline in the past couple of years. However, up until now the planes haven’t flown a single commercial flight. We now have a sense of when that could be changing.

Etihad targets Q2 2022 for A350 service

Etihad Airways has today revealed that the airline is hoping to put its first Airbus A350 into service by the second quarter of 2022. As of now no exact routes or dates have been provided for the plane being put into service, so I imagine this timeline could change.

Here’s how Etihad Group CEO Tony Douglas describes the plan to add A350s to the fleet:

“We look forward to our guests being able to experience our state-of-the-art Airbus A350s when they debut later this year, taking pride of place alongside our Boeing 787s. With one of the most fuel-efficient fleets in the world and with sustainability at the very top of our agenda, we will continue to pave the way for more sustainable flying in 2022 and beyond.”

Some people are probably wondering why Etihad would park brand new A350s for a couple of years after taking delivery of them. Well, Etihad has been undergoing a massive restructuring in an effort to control costs. While a decade back Etihad hoped to become a huge global airline and ordered all kinds of aircraft, that trend has very much been reversed in the past few years.

Etihad’s fleet has been shrinking, and even though the A350 is incredibly efficient, I’m guessing the economics have worked out better to just keep the planes parked, to save money on insurance, crew training, maintenance, etc.

That will finally be changing, though, presumably because Etihad is retiring its Airbus A380s, Airbus A330s, and Boeing 777s. The plan is that in the future Etihad’s wide body fleet will consist exclusively of Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s.

The Etihad A380 may never fly again with passengers

Etihad currently has roughly 40 Boeing 787s in its fleet, with a total of 60 having been ordered (so roughly 20 are yet to be delivered). On top of that, Etihad had ordered 20 Airbus A350-1000s.

What will Etihad’s A350-1000s be like?

What should we expect from Etihad’s Airbus A350-1000s? The airline did show off the cabins at the Dubai Air Show in 2021, but hasn’t formally unveiled the product beyond that. Based on what we know:

  • Etihad’s A350s won’t feature first class
  • Etihad’s A350s will feature Collins Aerospace Super Diamond reverse herringbone seats with doors in business class, similar to British Airways’ A350 Club Suites
  • Etihad’s A350s won’t feature premium economy
  • Etihad’s A3350s will have economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration, in what looks like a pretty decent product (the A350 is a joy to fly in general)

As I’ve written about before, one has to wonder about the future of Etihad first class. At this point the airline has just five Boeing 787-9s featuring first class, and there are no plans for any other planes in the fleet to feature the cabin. I can’t imagine the economics make sense to keep around such a small first class fleet, so I suspect that will eventually be eliminated.

Etihad Boeing 787-9 first class

Bottom line

Etihad Airways has provided an update on its parked Airbus A350s. The Abu Dhabi-based carrier hopes to start putting these planes into service as of the second quarter of 2022, so that would be in the next four months. I hope that this actually happens, because the A350 is a lovely plane to fly.

Unfortunately so much of the allure of Etihad Airways is gone after all these changes. I no longer really think of the “big three” Gulf carriers, as I don’t really think of Etihad as being in the same league as Emirates and Qatar Airways anymore. And of course that’s fair enough — if the government of Abu Dhabi wants to stop lighting money on fire, that’s their prerogative.

What do you make of Etihad’s A350 plans, and on what routes do you think the airline will fly the jet?

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