Superjumbo to fly again at Etihad as travel rebound spurs U-turn

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Gulf carrier Etihad Airways pledged to bring back the Airbus SE A380 superjumbo, joining a small group of airlines choosing to revive the mammoth jet after it had appeared doomed at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

The return of the A380 at Etihad comes as a particular surprise after the Abu Dhabi-based company had insisted it saw little likelihood of a role for the thirsty four-engine model, especially after dropping its global hub strategy to focus more on local markets.

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Etihad plans to deploy four of the double-deckers next summer on flights to London Heathrow, freeing up capacity to bring back more destinations and add frequencies elsewhere, it said Friday. Its A380s are particularly luxurious, fitted with nine first-class berths featuring a leather lounge chair and an ottoman converting into an 80.5-inch long bed.

Premium passengers will be able to upgrade to the even more luxurious three-compartment Residence.

“The move follows a surge in demand for air travel across the airline’s network and customer feedback for the return of one of the most remarkable commercial flying experiences in the sky,” the carrier said.

Etihad’s decision to bring some of its 10 A380s out of mothballs comes after Deutsche Lufthansa AG announced in the summer that it would revive superjumbo flights next year. The German firm said the decision was partly related to delivery delays for newer models including the Boeing Co. 777X.

The rebound in travel after two years of curbs has also seen Qatar Airways, Qantas Airways Ltd, British Airways and Singapore Airlines Ltd. resuscitate the double-decker, though sometimes in limited numbers, since demand on the long-haul routes in which it specializes remains depressed, especially in Asia.

Out of favor

The A380 is a mainstay of operations at Dubai-based Emirates, the largest customer with around 120 planes, of which more than 70 had been revived at the end of September. The interiors of about half the fleet are also getting a makeover including premium economy seating.

Other than at Emirates, the superjumbo had already been falling out of favor prior to the coronavirus crisis as airlines turned to more efficient two-engine widebodies and global economic growth made direct flights more viable, eroding the dominance of hubs. Airbus called a halt to the program in 2019 and delivered the final jet last December.

Etihad is reactivating the A380 under Chief Executive Officer Antonoaldo Neves, the former head of Portuguese flag carrier TAP, who joined a few weeks ago.

His predecessor Tony Douglas, credited with reviving Etihad by slimming down its fleet and network after it racked up billions of dollars of losses, had said several times that the superjumbo was unlikely to ever return, and certainly not with oil priced above $65 a barrel. Crude was priced at around $72 as of 8:40 am in London.

Read more: Abu Dhabi Airports announces 4.7 mln passenger traffic in third quarter, up 250 pct

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