ETIHAD Airways expects to increase traffic by about 64 per cent in 2007.
The airline, which is the national carrier of the UAE, has set a target of carrying 4.6 million passengers over 45 international destinations in 2007. In 2006, Etihad handled 2.8 million passengers over 38 destinations. No commercial airline in the history of aviation has achieved Etihad Airways’ rate of growth in such a short period of time. Geert Boven, executive vice-president sales and services at Etihad Airways, tells SHALU CHANDRAN the airline still has ambitious future expansion plans.
In four years, Etihad has gained reputation as one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. Did you predict this growth strategy?
Yes, in fact we did. It was part of our marketing strategy and the airline and the government was determined that we would put Abu Dhabi on the global map.
What has 2007 been like? What are your projections for 2008?
2007 has been a wonderful year. Etihad Airways carried more than 3.3 million passengers during the first nine months of 2007, compared to 1.95 million for the same period in 2006, an increase of 70 per cent. Travellers can look forward to a great choice of flights with our new winter schedule, which started on October 28. Our weekly flights will increase from 556 to 718 with the majority of the increases in the GCC, Europe and the Indian subcontinent. Other new destinations this year are Singapore, Brisbane and to Kathmandu.
This is a 29 per cent increase in flights compared to last winter with routes to Bahrain where services will double from 14 to 28 flights a week and Muscat, where they will treble from seven to 21 flights a week. There will also be increased services from Abu Dhabi to Doha, from seven to 14 flights a week, Amman from six to daily and Damascus from five to daily.
There will be increased services on our European destinations with flights to Frankfurt which will increase from seven to 10 a week, Geneva and Brussels from three to four flights a week, Dublin goes from four to six flights a week and London Heathrow rises from 14 to 19 flights a week.
In 2008, we have on agenda to introduce flight routes to China, which might be in March. We want to introduce new routes a slowly but in the right frequency. Next year the focus will shift from launching new routes to consolidating our existing networks.
With connections to Sydney and Brisbane – what kind of route capacity do you expecting to see?
Currently we offer a three-flights-a-week service to Brisbane. Expansion is also limited to bilateral relations. For the month of October, we saw a demand on the seat factor for our Brisbane flights approaching 70 per cent in economy class and 65 per cent in business class. That’s a great start.
Already, there’s been a rise in frequency to Sydney since you launched in March. How much demand is there? Will the new route target a lot of inbound to Abu Dhabi too?
Our Sydney route which started in March this year has been successful much beyond expectations. We are now planning to increase this capacity from seven to eleven flights by March 2008. This is a result of seeing more than 40,000 passengers on the Sydney-Abu Dhabi route with a 68 per cent seat factor in economy, 85 per cent in business and 78 per cent in first class.
The market is very big, and with such great frequencies, there will definitely be and increase in inbound tourists to Abu Dhabi as well. Not only for those visiting Abu Dhabi, but for those who have onward connections to Europe too. We can also offer them flight connections to Dublin, Manchester or even London via Abu Dhabi.
What about fleet expansion? Emirates has already doubled its A380 order to meet demands.
Fleet expansion is crucial for us. Lack of aircraft ready is can limiting out expansion plans. By the end of 2007, we are expecting to receive 31 wide bodied aircrafts and another 12 in 2008-09. We have leased six A320’s in order to free up our existing wide bodied aircrafts from the Middle East region.
There are currently no plans to increase our A380 orders. I believe it is more important for us to focus on out destinations and frequencies. We think it beneficial for our customers to go double or thrice daily on a route than a single flight a day with the A380. It is a less attractive product. Our A380s will focus only on very high-volume markets.