Loading

In ordering more 787s, Etihad joins Emirates in securing medium-term growth

Etihad Airways' order for ten additional Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners will see the carrier join Emirates in guaranteeing medium-term growth. While some of the growth may be organic, a concern is further delays – or all together performance shortfalls – for the Airbus A350-1000, which both Emirates and Etihad ordered. The A350-1000 sits between the 787-9 and the 777-300ER, the latter of which Emirates ordered an additional 50 of last month. While the A350-1000 is due for delivery from late 2017, delays are highly expected. Etihad CEO James Hogan all but confirmed this when commenting on the additional 787 purchase, "We saw an opportunity to add further certainty to our growth profile in the mid to late part of the decade."

Largest 787-9 customer

Etihad's order for 10 additional 787-9 aircraft will bring Etihad's total for the type to 41. Etihad had 35 787-9s on order but in Mar-2011 cancelled four in lieu of three additional 777s; the move was also seen to combat delivery dates – that time for the 787. Etihad's original order from 2008 included purchase rights for 10 787s, and Mr Hogan in a statement indicated he was exercising the rights. Etihad has options and rights on 25 more 787s. While All Nippon Airlines and Qantas hold larger absolute orders as 787 airline customers, neither will match or exceed Etihad's 41 787-9s.

All eyes on the A350-1000

Both Etihad's order and last month's Emirates order fill gaps – possible or emerging – in fleet planning. Single deck aircraft deliveries at Emirates were to end in 2014 until A350s started being delivered in 2015. But those initial models are for small capacity and range variants; the A350-1000 is officially not due until late 2017. That left a gap that would be enlarged as the A350-1000 became delayed. Etihad is in a similar predicament. While it has 777s and 787s scheduled for delivery through the latter half of the decade, there was little overlap with Etihad's long-term single-deck aircraft, the A350-1000, of which it has 25 on order. Further delays to it would leave Etihad without aircraft for growth, but the 10 additional 787-9s provide cushioning. The aircraft are due for delivery from late 2014 until 2019 – providing coverage for an A350-1000 delay of up to two years. Or if Etihad cancels its A350-1000, possibly in favour of Boeing's revamped 777, which would surpass the A350-1000, Etihad now has interim growth until a new long-term growth vehicle is secured.

See related article: What another 50 Emirates B777-300ERs means: some growth, replacement and competition for others

Sharp words for Airbus

The big three of the Middle EastEmirates, Etihad and Qatar – all have the A350-1000 on order. (The only other customer is Asiana, with an order for 10.) Etihad, as is typical of the carrier and Mr Hogan, has avoided negotiation through the press about recent changes to the A350-1000, which includes increasing the empty weight as well as introducing a new and more powerful version of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine, but which will lack commonality with other Trent XWB engines. While Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker is known for his direct and caustic remarks, and was short on none at last month's Dubai airshow, his comments are more typically made when he has nothing to lose or is in the driving seat about to sign off on a contract and wants a lower price. But when the situation is out of his control, such as asking for a design re-vamp for an aircraft that has no immediate alternative he can turn to, Mr Al Baker is quiet. At the Dubai airshow he declined to comment about the A350-1000.

Leading the pact in A350-1000 commentary is Emirates CEO Tim Clark, who has taken his usual practical and technical stance to explain operational shortfalls that will result from the design changes: more weight, maintenance and costs.

Thin routes targeted for 787-9

In addition to 787-9 top-up order, Etihad announced a large sphere of destinations the 787-9 will initially operate to. They include Beijing, Delhi, Dublin, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur and Nagoya. While Etihad noted the 787-9 has an official range of 8000nm, the initial routes are largely medium/long-haul thin routes currently operated by the A330 that can benefit from the 787-9's similar operating profile but with lower costs. The longest of the initial routes, Abu Dhabi-Beijing, is half the 787-9's listed range.

Recent route announcements for JAL's 787s indicate that carrier will also use 787s on medium-haul thin routes.

Etihad can be expected to open new destinations since the 41 787-9s far exceed the 22 A330s Etihad currently has in passenger operation and will be targets for replacement in the medium-term.

Profile of Etihad's future 787-9 destinations

Destination Current Equipment Distance from Abu Dhabi (nm)
Beijing-Nagoya  A330  3221 (1013 from Beijing to Nagoya)
Delhi  A320  1232
Dublin  A330  3212
Frankfurt  A330/A340-600  2628
Istanbul  A320/A330  1630
Kuala Lumpur  A330  3018

Growth for Etihad freight

Etihad has also ordered two additional 777-200LR freighter aircraft. Etihad's Crystal Cargo division currently operates two A300-600Fs, two A330-200Fs, one 777F and two MD-11Fs.