Etihad Airways Recovery: A Long Way Still To Go

With August seat volume at just 39% of what it was in 2019, Etihad Airways has a long way to go in its recovery. The Abu Dhabi hub carrier has 61 passenger destinations, down from 78, with no sign yet of the A350-1000. We see what Etihad is planning.

Etihad Airways Boeing 777-3FX(ER) A6-ETR
Etihad’s passenger network comprises 61 destinations in August. Only two have seen capacity rise versus August 2019: the Maldives and Seychelles. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

A long way to go

The United Arab Emirates’ Etihad Airways has a long way to go until it returns, let alone exceeds, 2019 capacity. This coming August, seat volume is at just 39% of what it was in August 2019. There is much ground to make up, even before passengers, revenue, and loads are considered.

While Qatar Airways has consistently had much higher capacity levels, as shown in the following figure, both Etihad and Emirates have been more cautious in adding it back. Perhaps caution is sensible under the circumstances.

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In August, Emirates is at 45% of pre-COVID capacity (still low), based on analyzing OAG data, while Qatar Airways is at 68%. (Emirates’ narrowbody partner flydubai is at a significant 84%.)

Etihad Airways capacity in 2021 versus 2019
How do the so-called ‘Middle East Big Three’ compare? Source: Simple Flying using data from OAG.

What about further ahead?

Looking at the rest of the year, Etihad has scheduled 52% of 2019 capacity in September, rising to 55% in October. However, both seem overly high in relation to the first eight months of the year and they’re likely to be cut further. Airlines are now removing capacity much closer to departure than previously.

Etihad Airways B787
In August, Etihad’s most-used aircraft, in terms of total seats, will be the B787-9. In order, the rest will be the B787-8; A321; A320; and B777-300ER. Note that no A350 flights are scheduled then nor for the rest of the year. Photo: Getty Images.

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61 destinations from Abu Dhabi in August

This coming August, Etihad has 61 bookable passenger destinations from its Abu Dhabi hub, down from 78 in the same month in 2019. This means that, while its network is reasonably intact, destinations are served far less often than they were before. We previously explored the carrier in North America.

Cairo has jumped seven places to become the top route, relegating London Heathrow to the second spot on account of the UAE being on the UK’s red list. Nonetheless, Heathrow is still due to see three flights a day towards the end of the month, although this currently might seem optimistic.

  1. Cairo
  2. Heathrow
  3. Frankfurt
  4. Milan Malpensa
  5. Jakarta
  6. Amman
  7. Lahore
  8. Amsterdam
  9. Paris CDG
  10. Islamabad
Etihad's August 2021 routes
Bangkok, Delhi, Sydney, Mumbai, Jeddah, and Kuwait have all fallen out of the top-10 destination list on account of restrictions. Meanwhile, Manila was 10th but will not be served at all in August. It’ll be interesting to see when exactly India and Saudi Arabia, two crucial countries for Etihad, properly open up to those from the UAE. Image: OAG Mapper.

Nine countries cut… but four added

Unlike in August 2019, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Nigeria, Serbia, South Africa, and Sudan are now not served. In contrast, Austria, Bangladesh, Israel, and Qatar will now be in Etihad’s network.

Bangladesh and Qatar have both returned: Dhaka was last served between 2006 and 2018, while Doha resumed after the blockade. There are four properly new routes for 2021: Mykonos; Santorini; Tel Aviv; and Vienna.

Etihad begins Vienna
Etihad began Vienna on July 18th, 2021. Routing Abu Dhabi-Vienna-Milan Malpensa-Vienna, it operates twice-weekly using 290-seat B787-9s. Photo: Vienna Airport.

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi

It’s noteworthy that while Etihad cut Azerbaijan, Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, Etihad’s joint venture partner with whom it codeshares, has taken it up. It operates twice-weekly in August.

Indeed, one aspect of Air Arabia’s purpose is to serve destinations that were either previously served by Etihad or unserved from Abu Dhabi, mainly within a four-hour radius and often heavily driven by visiting friends and relatives (VFR) demand.

Etihad A320
Air Arabia Abu Dhabi will operate routes that Etihad cannot successfully do while beginning brand-new routes. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr.

While Etihad may have found a route to be unprofitable or to not have contributed adequately network-wise, it may be considered important enough to be served by a lower-cost platform – in the form of Air Arabia with Etihad’s codeshare and connectivity. This approach also explains why Air Arabia Abu Dhabi is beginning Faisalabad and Multan, both in Pakistan, in August.

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