Etihad is about to do ‘a Lufthansa’. After many months of saying “we won’t” and “we might”, the Abu Dhabi airline has now confirmed that it will bring back four Airbus A380s out of storage for the summer 2023 schedule. Etihad confirms it needs A380s after all.

The double-deckers will solely operate on the Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow route, which together with Paris was one of the first to see them after the type entered service in December 2014. “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,” Etihad Group Chairman, Ali Al Shorafa, said in a media statement.

The airline’s new CEO, Antonoaldo 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.” The decision means that Etihad, once more, is offering its exquisite The Residence premium cabin product to customers.

Following the delivery of its tenth and final A380 in May 2017, Etihad operated them on its network to London Heathrow, Paris, New York, Sydney, Melbourne, and Mumbai. From 2015, it even offered three daily rotations to London out of Abu Dhabi. At the start of the pandemic in March/April 2020, Etihad was grounded for some weeks and took the opportunity to give its fleet some checks and repairs in what was seen as a temporary measure. But as Covid continued to affect air travel, the Etihad A380s never got back into service again. Instead, Etihad start sending four of them to Tarbes (France) in December 2020-January 2021 for deep storage, followed by the remaining six to Teruel (Spain) from April 2021.

The return of the A380 with Etihad means that passengers can book The Residence again for a small fortune. (Etihad)

Then-CEO Tony Douglas was asked about the faith of the A380 in almost every interview. His reply mostly was that he wasn’t ruling out anything, but then a chance of seeing them back in service seemed very slim to him. But in recent weeks, rumors started spreading that Etihad was preparing to take the aircraft out of deep storage and start training crew to resume services. Indeed, last week, one aircraft (A6-APG) was seen in Teruel without protective covers, an indication that something was about to happen. Etihad says today that it will start recruitment and training of A380 teams, which indicates that the previous crew had no longer been kept active.

Lufthansa’s first A380 back out of storage

As said, Etihad is doing a Lufthansa, as the German airline brought back its first A380 out of deep storage in Teruel last Friday. The aircraft with registration D-AIMK flew back to Frankfurt, having spent in the Spanish outback since May 5, 2020. While looking dry and like a desert, the aircraft was actually damaged during a hail storm when in Teruel and suffered dents in the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic flaps of the wings.

AIMK will go the Manila for a tech check and further repairs, before re-entering service on Lufthansa’s 2023 summer schedule, as will be four or five more A380s. CEO Carsten Spohr announced the decision to bring them back in late June, citing the lack of capacity as the main reason. Although the four-engined A380 is expensive to operate when fuel prices are high, Lufthansa said it was short of capacity next summer as deliveries of the new Boeing 787-9 as well as the Airbus A350-900 were delayed, not to mention that of the first 777-9.

In contrast to Etihad’s and Lufthansa’s capacity requirements, other A380 operators have been permanently grounded the type. China Southern Airlines ended A380 operations in late October. It flew a third aircraft to the Mojave desert last week (B-6138) to join two A380s that have been there since earlier this year. The remaining two aircraft (B-6139 and B-6140) in Guangzhou will follow soon.

Malaysia Airlines hasn’t operated its six A380s since the pandemic, but kept them in storage in Kuala Lumpur since then. But since November 14, it has been ferrying an A380 every Monday for four weeks to Tarbes. AirInsight understands that the aircraft have been traded in with Airbus as part of Malaysia’s order for ten A330-900s, which was announced as an MoU in August as part of a sale and leaseback with lessor Avolon.

Lufthansa brought back its first A380 (D-AIMK) out of deep storage last week for re-introduction in late March 2023. (Lufthansa)

Other A380 operators

The world’s biggest A380 operator, Emirates, has now 84 of them back in service on its worldwide network and is busy refurbishing the interior with Premium Economy. It recently introduced the type to Auckland again, one of the longest flights at 17+ hours on the way home to Dubai.
British Airways has all twelve A380s back in service since this summer and operates them to the US, Vancouver (seasonal until late October), and currently to Doha during the FIFA World Cup.

Qantas will bring a sixth aircraft back in service this month, which is its first A380 (VH-OQA) which is currently in maintenance at Etihad Engineering after spending a couple of years in Victorville. The Australians fly them to London Heathrow and Los Angeles. Singapore Airlines has reactivated eleven A380s and operates them to London, Frankfurt, Sydney, Melbourne, New York, and occasionally Guangzhou. Its oldest A380s have been phased, with recent pictures on social media showing how SKH was being scrapped.

Qatar has eight Airbus A380s back in service. Although CEO Akbar Al Baker said earlier that he had no appetite to bring them back, Qatar was forced to use them again as it is short of capacity following the grounding of some twenty A350s with paint quality issues. Qatar Airways flies the double-decker to London, Paris, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Bangkok.

Korean Air and Asiana Airlines also have resumed A380 services with a limited number of aircraft. Korean has brought back five aircraft and operates them to New York, Bangkok, and Guangzhou. Asiana has three A380s in service to Los Angeles and Bangkok. All Nippon has two A380s in service and currently operates them five times weekly to Honolulu, the only route that sees the sea turtles in action. Interestingly, even some fourteen months after taking delivery of the third and orange A380, the aircraft is still kept in storage and has only done a single flight over Japan in recent months.

Thai Airways said recently that it is considering bringing back two A380s as it too is suffering from some capacity shortfalls. The airline had six of them, but four are scheduled to be returned to lessors, leaving just two available.  

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News. From January 2023, he will add a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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