Etihad’s first A350-1000s are all heading for storage instead of to the carrier. Simple Flying investigates what’s going on, and why the airline is not taking delivery of these shiny new planes.
In the throes of a massive order cancellation with Airbus, Etihad agreed to take the first five A350-1000s but abandoned the rest of the order. However, as these aircraft begin rolling off the production line, they are heading not for Abu Dhabi but to Bordeaux, to be mothballed in a storage facility. What’s going on?
Where are Etihad’s A350-1000s?
Early June saw the first A350-1000 return from the paint shop in Hamburg to Toulouse, ready to be taken up by Etihad. However, there was to be no celebration here, as days later it was ferried to Bordeaux.
— Aviation Toulouse (@Frenchpainter) June 3, 2019
Mid July saw the second Etihad A350 roll out of the paint shop. Sadly, this one, registered F-WXAB, was destined to head to Bordeaux for storage too.
— Aviation Toulouse (@Frenchpainter) July 16, 2019
And finally, just three weeks ago, the third A350 took off from Toulouse in full gleaming Etihad livery, bound for storage in Bordeaux also.
These things always come in threes.
📸 A380_TLS_A350 pic.twitter.com/dOMOqg5CCL
— A350Blog (@A350Blog) August 27, 2019
In fact, it seems all five will be heading straight to storage following painting. It’s super sad to see any new aircraft not doing the job it was built for, but even sadder to see this gorgeous big bird in gleaming EY livery disappearing from sight.
What Etihad has to say
Clearly, the simplest way to figure out why this is being done is to ask Etihad themselves. So, we did that. Here’s what they had to say:
“Etihad Airways will retime the entry into service of five new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft as part of its ongoing business transformation plan.
“The Airbus A350 remains an important part of Etihad’s future fleet and network strategy.
“A decision on introduction date will be made as part of the airline’s broader strategy planning.”
That’s a lot of words, but what does it all mean?
Well, Etihad is not saying that the aircraft are no longer coming to its fleet. In fact, they say it’s an ‘important part’ of the carrier’s future fleet. So why don’t they want them right now?
The reason behind the A350 going to storage has been widely speculated upon. Some said it’s because they haven’t got any trained pilots, others thought perhaps there was a delay on some part of the cabin infrastructure.
While only Etihad know the full story of why these aircraft are heading to Bordeaux, what we do know is that the carrier is in a tough financial position right now. Littered with a history of failed investments, the airline posted a staggering $1.28bn loss last year, the third consecutive year of losses in the billions.
Added to this, the carrier had to launch additional frequencies to London Heathrow simply to protect its own slots, following the collapse of India’s Jet Airways who was leasing the slots from them. These additional services probably aren’t performing all that well, and are likely adding to the financial burden that the Abu Dhabi airline is carrying.
Etihad embarked on a cost-cutting push to try and rein in its losses, outsourcing lounges, charging for premium drinks and snacks and ripping out seatback screens in narrowbody planes. And, of course, slashing its A350 order to just five of the type.
Earlier this year, it was looking for a loan of $600m to finance new planes, including Dreamliners and the A350. Clearly, times are tight for Etihad, and something had to give. It would, therefore, seem likely that they’ve deferred taking the A350 in order to not have to find the money to pay just yet.
When will the A350 be put into service for Etihad?
While there’s no confirmation from Etihad as far as we can see, one comment on Twitter from a UAE account seemed to know something about it.
As per the latest updates.. Etihad plans to start the deliveries of the A350 in 2021 and it will be with 2 classes configuration (business & economy)
— Hamad Al Qubaisi 🇦🇪 (@hamad_qubaisi) August 27, 2019
If 2021 is indeed the date, it looks like we’ve got a long wait ahead of us before we see that stunning livery on airport aprons anywhere.