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June 17, 2024
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After more than three years on the ground, Etihad Airways has operated its first Airbus A380 service again on July 25. Flight EY11 departed Abu Dhabi at 2.37 am local time and arrived at London Heathrow at 6.42 am, welcomed by spotters and the camera of Big Jet TV. Etihad resumes A380 services but only to London.

The return to service of the Etihad A380 seemed unlikely not long ago. After the outbreak of the first wave of Covid in early 2020, the UAE flag carrier was quick to park all ten aircraft. Etihad spent a few months checking and repairing the interiors, hoping on a quick re-entry into service. But as the pandemic extended into the autumn of 2020 and then well into 2021, Etihad began sending their double-deckers to Teruel (Spain) and Tarbes (France) for deep storage.

Then-CEO Tony Douglas was asked numerous times if the A380 would return, as Emirates and British Airways were bringing back more aircraft out of storage during the second half of 2021. Douglas was reluctant to confirm this with a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’. He hinted that in the right circumstances, there would be a future for the A380 at Etihad after all.

It was his successor Antonoalde Neves who decided in December 2022 that the A380 would come out of deep storage: “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.”

Extensive six-year check

However, it’s a limited return, with the A380 only to be operated on the lucrative and busy Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow route. Etihad has no intention to resume pre-pandemic services to Paris, Sydney, Melbourne, or New York. Hence, only four aircraft have left storage while the faith of the six others is uncertain.

The first to leave the desert of Teruel was A6-APG, which flew to Tarbes for initial checks on January 30. On March 9, the aircraft returned to Abu Dhabi, where she underwent a six-year heavy maintenance check at Etihad Engineering. The full interior, including The Residence suites, was stripped out and checked.

“The scope of the comprehensive check included rear spar modifications, frame modifications, removal, inspection and installation of all four engines, and the inspection and servicing of a wide range of sophisticated components at the facility’s dedicated workshops onsite,” the company said in a media statement last week when it re-delivered APG to the airline.

Etihad Engineering transferred A380 APH to the airline last week after an extensive six-year check. (Etihad)

Following an extensive post-maintenance test flight on July 17, the aircraft was used for crew training at Abu Dhabi Airport, notably take-offs and landings and go-arounds. APG was then prepared for the first service EY11/12 on July 25. This is later than planned, as Etihad had originally hoped to operate the A380 again on July 17 but delayed it to the 22nd and then to the 25th.

In a media statement, Neves said today: “The aircraft adds much-needed capacity connecting Abu Dhabi with London Heathrow and allows us to build our network and increase frequencies across the network. With a surge in demand for travel over the summer, the return of our much-loved A380 comes at the perfect time.” From August 1, the type will also operate on a second rotation to London, EY19/20.

Etihad was hit by bad luck one day after the return to London, when APG went tech with an engine issue. She departed only late in the evening of the next day (July 27)

Three more out of storage

Three other A380s have come out of storage. A6-API went to Tarbes in January 2021 but left again on May 4. She flew straight to Xiamen (China) for an extensive technical check and returned to Abu Dhabi on July 17. Here, she has been prepared as a backup aircraft and used for crew training as well. API will likely return to service later this week.

APH has been in Teruel since June 2021, but de-storage started in March this year. She flew to Tarbes on May 10 and to Abu Dhabi on June 21, where she is in maintenance. The fourth A380 to come out of storage is A6-APJ, which had been in Teruel since late April 2021. She left the Spanish airport on July 11 and flew to Xiamen. Checks and repairs are expected to take some two months.

Emirates leads the A380 fleet

Etihad is now the ninth airline to have resumed A380 services. Emirates started re-deploying the type at a low rate in mid-2020 and has now 94 of them in service across the long-haul network. Another 27 are in storage or maintenance, as the carrier rolls out its Premium Economy and revised interior.

Singapore Airlines has eleven A380s back in action with one still in storage while British Airways operates again all twelve to the US, South Africa, and Dubai. Qantas plans to bring back ten double-deckers, with currently eight back in action and two other aircraft undergoing checks and cabin upgrades.

Qatar Airways has brought back eight A380s out of ten, but this only followed the capacity shortfall after the airline grounded some 23 A350s with a paint quality issue. As more A350s are being repaired and returned to service, time on the long-term future of the A380 with Qatar is running out. Group CEO Akbar Al Baker has stated on various occasions that he wants to get rid of the A380s. For now, they operate to London, Paris, Sydney, Perth, and Bangkok.  

Korean Air operated an A380 to Paris on June 29, but usually flies them to the US and within Asia. (@benjamin_video)

Korean Air operates five A380s or half of the fleet, to the US (New York and Los Angeles) and within Asia. In late June, the blue A380 made a one-off to Paris. It’s the same for Asiana Airlines, which has re-activated four out of six aircraft. The Korean carrier recently operated the type to Frankfurt on an alternate service with the A350-900.

Lufthansa resumed A380 services in June, first to Boston and a few weeks later to Los Angeles. D-AIMK was the first to leave storage in December 2022, followed by AIMM in February this year, AIML in April, and AIMN in June. All aircraft needed C-checks, which were done at Lufthansa Technik in Manila. AIMN went there today, July 25. Lufthansa plans to bring back two more A380s in early 2024 and is considering the return of a seventh and eighth A380, but this depends on the delivery of the Boeing 777-9 it has on order.

author avatar
Richard Schuurman
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. Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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