Etihad Assesses Future Of Narrowbodies On Order

CEO Tony Douglas said a likely home for the 26 Airbus A321neos could be Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, the LCC which operates routes to seven countries including India, Bangladesh and Egypt.

Credit: Airbus/Christian Brinkmann
Etihad currently operates the A321.

Etihad Airways is weighing the future of the Airbus A321neos it has on order, with CEO Tony Douglas saying a likely home for the narrowbody aircraft could be at its joint venture LCC with Air Arabia.

Speaking at the CAPA Leader Summit in Manchester, England, Douglas said the United Arab Emirates-based airline’s future fleet strategy will center around the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350-1000. On March 31 the 787 operated between Abu Dhabi (AUH) and Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) for the first time.

“We believe those two are the winners because of the technology of the airframe, the avionics and control systems, and the environmental performance in particular is essential,” Douglas said.

“There is of course a vital place for next-generation narrowbody and we’re more likely to operate them through our partnership with Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, of which we own 51%.”

Etihad has firm orders for 11 787-9s and 21 787-10s, adding to the 30 787-9s and nine 787-10s already in its fleet. The airline has already taken delivery of its first five A350-1000s and has 15 more on order.

In addition, the carrier’s order book contains agreements for eight 777-8s, 17 777-9s and 26 A321neos. It already has 20 A320s and 10 A321s, of which six and eight respectively are in service.

However, Douglas suggested that as part of a fleet simplification process, the narrowbodies could be deployed with Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, the LCC launched by Etihad and Air Arabia in July 2020. Etihad currently offers 22 routes operated by narrowbodies.

“We’ve been very close to Air Arabia for a long time,” Douglas said during the forthcoming episode of Aviation Week’s Window Seat Podcast. “They are the standout business model within the Middle East region in terms of knowing how to operate a low-cost proposition in a very efficient way and we have huge respect for them.”

He added that Air Arabia Abu Dhabi was launched to “provide extended reach to our short-haul network but also to provide a far more efficient model for operating single-aisle.”

“It’s got off to a great start, and last year we had a full trading year, and we are very proud because within the broader Gulf region it’s the first AOC, to our knowledge, that went fully profitable from year one,” Douglas said. “That’s testimony to Air Arabia’s ability to run a very tight ship indeed.”

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi currently has a network of 14 nonstop routes, data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser shows, and the LCC intends to introduce flights to Chennai later this month, followed by the start of operations to Jaipur in May.