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Etihad outsources flights as airlines grapple with jet shortage 

An Etihad Boeing 787 at Abu Dhabi International. The airline is outsourcing some 787 routes to other carriers Reuters
An Etihad Boeing 787 at Abu Dhabi International. The airline is outsourcing some 787 routes
  • Charter airlines plugging gap
  • Etihad adding routes and capacity 
  • 33% rise in Middle East passengers

Etihad Airways has engaged charter airlines to operate its flights on at least two key routes, as it accelerates the expansion of its network.

Spanish carrier Wamos Air is operating two wide-bodied Airbus A330 jets under Etihad flight numbers on the Abu Dhabi-Jakarta route, while Hi Fly Malta is deploying an Etihad-numbered A330 on daily round trips between Abu Dhabi and Brussels, AGBI has learned.

The outsourcing reflects a global trend as airlines contend with plane and crew shortages amid rising demand for air travel. 

The Middle East region recorded 33 percent growth in passenger traffic last year, according to the International Air Transport Association. 

Etihad this week announced a 35 percent year-on-year increase in passenger numbers for January 2024, to just over 1.4 million.

In an internal memo circulated to staff at the end of last month, seen by AGBI, Etihad said it plans to put 14 new aircraft into service this year as it restores suspended routes, scales up existing markets and adds new destinations.

The airline also intends to reinstate three more of its grounded Airbus A380 super-jumbos – one this year and two next year – taking the total back in operation to seven. It grounded 10 in 2021 because of low demand. From April, A380s will boost capacity on the Abu Dhabi-New York route.

The chartered Wamos Air jets substitute Etihad’s Boeing 777 and 787 jets, which were operating its two daily Abu Dhabi-Jakarta services. The Hi Fly aircraft replaces 787s on Brussels flights.

Etihad has been contacted for comment. Although the airline has not commented on the use of charter jets, sources within the business have confirmed their use to AGBI.

In addition, outsourced jets using Etihad numbers have been captured recently on the tracking site Flight Radar 24.

Aviation data consultancy CH Aviation, which specialises in airline fleets, has identified three A330s operating for Etihad under “wet lease” arrangements, by which aircraft are provided and flown by third parties. 

Etihad does not operate A330s, having previously flown passenger and freight variants of the jet.

CH Aviation data obtained by AGBI this week shows Etihad operates 78 of its own passenger jets – 57 wide-body Boeing and Airbus aircraft and 21 narrow-body Airbus A320s and 321s – as well as five Boeing 777 freighters. 

The consultancy lists 11 “inactive” Etihad jets and orders for 96 new aircraft. This aligns with a plan to double the size of the fleet by 2030, which was announced late last year by the airline’s chief executive Antonoaldo Neves. 

Avolon, a commercial airliner leasing company, has cited big backlogs in aircraft production and high demand for existing craft as major impediments to growth in the aviation industry. 

Capacity shortages are extending the use of older aircraft including A380s and A330s, it said in an industry overview published last month. Lease rates for the A330 rose by more than 35 percent last year. 

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