Etihad Airways: A Simple Fleet, Boutique Approach

Etihad Airways is simplifying its fleet in quite a drastic way. From four types of widebody at the start of 2020, by January 2022, it will have just one. This simplified fleet will make for a smaller post-pandemic airline too. Etihad’s CEO Tony Douglas says that this is a good thing, and that it is proud to be positioning itself as a mid-size, boutique-style airline.

Etihad Boeing 787
By January 2022, Etihad’s widebody fleet will be all-Dreamliner. Photo: Etihad Airways

Etihad’s boutique approach

Etihad is undergoing quite the shake-up right now, particularly in terms of its fleet. The A380s will not return, the A330s have already gone, and by the end of the year, the 777-300ERs will no longer fly in Etihad colors.

While the A350 remains part of its plans, the airline will be, by January next year, completely reliant on the 787 Dreamliner for its widebody operations. It will also be much smaller than it was some years ago.

Since this time in 2019, 25 aircraft have already left the fleet. By 2022, the 24 777s will be gone. While deliveries of Dreamliners continue to arrive at the airline, the speed of those deliveries is likely to be slower until international travel picks up once more. By January 2022, the airline could be as small as between 70 and 80 planes.

Etihad A380
The A380s have been stored indefinitely. Photo: Airbus

But that’s not a bad thing, according to its CEO. Speaking at last week’s World Aviation Festival, Tony Douglas, Etihad CEO, said that the airline is positioning itself at the ‘boutique’ end of the spectrum, and is proud to reinvent itself as a high-quality mid-sized carrier. He said,

“We’re very proud to position ourselves as midsize, commercially sustainable and obsessive with customer service. It’s the boutique end that’s where we want to operate.”

Obsessive with customer service is a wonderful turn of phrase, and Douglas has the right to describe it as such. Despite the five years of annual losses and the challenges brought by the pandemic, Etihad has maintained exemplary standards for its passengers, something that it has built a solid reputation around.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Etihad Airways Boeing 777-3FX(ER) A6-ETR
Etihad will no longer fly the 777-300ER after the end of the year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Partnerships still important, but no alliance for now

For Etihad to position itself as a mid-sized carrier in this way, it’s clearly not going to have the reach of its larger neighbors and other hub and spoke operators. However, it does have a trick up its sleeve to maintain high levels of connectivity and a robust network, despite its smaller size.

Douglas noted the importance of partnerships and its codeshare network in delivering the hub and spoke model in an effective way, saying,

“We’re very proud to position ourselves as a mid-sized carrier, and I guess the humility that comes from that suggests that we no longer wish to operate with the scale that renders us in a position where partnerships isn’t a really important thing to be doing.

“It always was, and it always will be. We’ve got an extensive codeshare partnership network that connects us globally, that is likely to be as important going forward as it ever was in the past, arguably more so.”

Etihad 787
The airline remains independent of an alliance but relies on codeshare partnerships instead. Photo: Etihad

Etihad has, like its neighbor in Dubai, shied away from joining any of the global alliances. Douglas noted that, although an alliance is far from high up a list of priorities, he’d never rule it out in the future. He commented,

“I’d never rule anything out; why would one? I think partnerships are very much consistent with the way that we operate, and were that to be the right thing to do in the future, of course we would consider it. But right in the middle of a pandemic, I don’t think that’s going to be anywhere close to the top of our list of priorities.”

Perhaps we could see Etihad as a member of one of the big three alliances in the future, but for now, its boutique model and exemplary customer service are going to be what brings the guests onto its flights.