Etihad’s first A350 will make its debut this month

Mar 11, 2022

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It has taken a while, but Etihad Airways will finally debut the newest addition to its fleet, the Airbus A350-1000, during a special one-off commercial flight from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Paris (CDG) on 31 March.

Following its inaugural flight, the second flag carrier of the Emirates will begin the gradual roll-out of the fuel-efficient A350s on medium-range routes in its network, including flights to Cairo, Delhi, Istanbul, Jeddah and Mumbai, between April and June. A rep for the airline told the Executive Traveller this is being done “in preparation for the aircraft being deployed on longer-haul routes later in the year.”

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Related: Emirates drops its iconic A380 superjumbo from EIGHT routes

Further details of the routes Etihad plans to deploy its A350 fleet will reportedly be revealed in the next few weeks. The airline has, however, had the A350s for quite some time – Airbus delivered them over the past few years – but due to various factors, including the company downsizing its fleet of wide-body planes and cost controls based partly on the pandemic, the planes have not yet flown a commercial flight.

Despite the setbacks, Etihad hopes to have the A350s in full rotation by the summer as the lynchpin to the airline’s revised business model. These plans also signal that the carrier is optimistic that air travel will be back to pre-pandemic passenger numbers by next year.

The regional routes the A350s will operate initially will be between Abu Dhabi (AUH) and the following destinations:

  • Istanbul (IST) — daily flights from 1 April to 30 June 2022
  • Mumbai (BOM) — daily flights from 1 April and 30 June 2022
  • Jeddah (JED) — 6 flights per week between 3 April and 30 June 2022
  • Delhi (DEL) — daily flights from 30 April and 30 June 2022
  • Cairo (CAI) — 4 flights per week between 2 May and 30 June 2022

This follows recent announcements that the airline was adding twice-weekly service between Abu Dhabi and the French coastal destination Nice (NCE) beginning 15 June. Those flights will be handled by a Boeing 787 jet. The same month, Etihad will also debut service from Abu Dhabi to Crete (HER). Two flights per week will be offered to and from the Greek island, using an Airbus A320.

Related: Icelandic carrier Niceair launching in June

Getting back to the A350-1000 jets, they represent a shift in the types of products the airline offers passengers. Etihad’s A350s will not have first-class or premium economy seats. Instead, it will have nearly four dozen business-class suites, with the remaining space on the plane configured into a 3-3-3 layout of economy seats.

The airline says it is not completely eliminating first-class offerings, but simply refocusing the types of service it has depending on the planes being used. A spokesperson noted that some of its Boeing 787s still have first-class seating.

The reality is that two years of the coronavirus pandemic greatly impacted the demand for costly first-class air travel. Etihad in particular seems zeroed in on a revised business plan that focuses on what it calls a “business plus” product, which aims to narrow the gap between first class and business. It is focusing on its fleet of 39 787 Dreamliners and its new A350s. The airline reportedly has orders for more of the A350s from Airbus.

Featured image by: Christopher Pike, Bloomberg/Getty Images

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