Etihad Airways will sign a huge aircraft order next year ranging from new narrowbodies up to large widebodies, with the choice at the top end between the Airbus A380 and Boeing's 747-8I.
The Abu Dhabi carrier still has deposits and delivery slots on four A380s, but whether it ends up taking these aircraft depends on the structure of the order it is now discussing with the two manufacturers, says James Hogan, chief executive of Etihad.
"When we renegotiated for 12 aircraft at Le Bourget we pushed the aircraft [A380s] to 2013," he says. As part of the compensation deal with Airbus for the delay to the A380 programme, Etihad chose to take five A330-200s, four A340-600s and three A330-200Fs.
The new order is designed to secure its delivery schedule from 2010 to 2020 with a mixture of incremental and replacement aircraft, said Hogan, as it builds Abu Dhabi as a transfer hub with four daily flight banks.
Although it is introducing leased A320s for its intra-Gulf and Indian routes, Etihad will choose between the A320 and 737 for its narrowbody order. The 777 and 787 or A350 XWB are being studied for its mid-sized widebody needs.
The carrier will definitely require a large widebody. "We will need an A380 or 747-8 at some stage for routes to London and Sydney - the order could go either way," says Hogan.
In the short term, Etihad will have eight A320s in service by the end of 2008 and will take delivery of two more A340-600s next year. The accident at Airbus in November, when an Etihad A340-600 was severely damaged during ground testing, cannot affect Etihad's route launches in 2008, says Hogan. "We have got to continue to meet our development plans," he says. "We believe Airbus will work with us to find a solution."
These plans include the launch of a four-times daily service to Beijing in late March, its first route into China. Etihad is looking to add Shanghai and possibly another two Chinese cities to its network in 2008-9. Other plans in 2008 are a service to Russia and Nigerian capital Lagos, where route rights are being negotiated.