In line with its new fleet order for over 100 planes, Abu Dhabi’s official carrier, Etihad Airways is spreading its wings to new destinations in Europe, Africa, Australasia and North America, a senior official of the airline told TTN
With five new destinations being added in 2008, the total number of destinations served by Etihad Airways will reach 42. So far Etihad has started new flights to Beijing, Chennai, Kozhikode and Minsk, and will be launching its new services to Moscow in Russia and Almaty in Kazakhstan in December.
Etihad will also boost its flying programme to Australia at the end of October 2008, by increasing its existing daily service to Sydney to 11 flights per week. The same month will also see Etihad add a third daily flight to London Heathrow. Melbourne, Etihad’s third Australian destination, will be launched in the beginning of 2009.
Commenting on their ambitious expansion plans, James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ chief executive said, “To offer an idea of our ambitious intentions, Etihad doesn’t yet fly to places like Japan, Korea or anywhere in South America and we are certainly interested in destinations in those countries and regions. Currently, for example, we only serve New York in the USA and that situation will change.”
“We will also continue to develop our regional network in the Middle East,” he added.
According to Hogan, Abu Dhabi’s far sighted development plans and its growing status as a business and tourism hub has been the chief propeller behind Etihad’s aggressive expansion plans.
“Behind the expansion of our global flying programme is our belief in Abu Dhabi’s future plans, which will see approximately $200 billion invested in the emirate during the next 10 years.”
He said that Abu Dhabi currently attracts about a million visitors a year and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is projecting this figure to rise by 2.7 million visitors a year by 2012. This will be encouraged by developments such as the planned Formula One Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi and projects such as the Guggenheim museum and Louvre museum.
Economic growth and the opportunities that it creates are expected to see Abu Dhabi’s population increase to at least 3.1 million by the year 2030 and this will necessitate a commensurate increase in Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi airport.
Etihad’s recent fleet order also mirrors the Middle East’s increasing emergence as a new focal point of global aviation and a natural air bridge between east and west.
“It has a perfectly central geographical location and new long haul and ultra long haul aircraft make non stop travel to all four corners of the world a comfortable reality,” he said.
Whereas other international airlines have been struggling to keep up their passenger numbers, Etihad Airways continues to enjoy a record breaking 2008 with its latest passenger figures for the first six months flying high with a 41 per cent rise on the same period last year.
The airline is well on track to achieve its target of carrying six million passengers by the end of the year, according to a company statement.
Highlights of the first half year results show that the airline carried 2.8 million passengers during the first six months of 2008, compared to nearly two million for the same period in 2007.
And Etihad also witnessed the busiest day in its four year history on Friday, June 29, with a record breaking 19,709 customers flown across the airline’s network at a seat factor of 85 per cent.
The airline achieved average seat factors of 73 per cent across its network of 45 destinations between January 1 and June 30.
Year-on-year this represents an increase in seat factor of nine percentage points. Hogan said “Etihad’s performance during the first six months of 2008 has been extremely strong against a well documented backdrop of higher fuel prices and economic slow-down in parts of Europe and the Americas.”
“Despite these significant challenges faced by many airlines, Etihad is not seeing any signs of a decline in demand in any of our markets or any of our cabins. Indeed our forward bookings are currently well ahead of expectations and we anticipate another very busy summer.”
Like any other airline, the spiralling cost of oil has had an impact on Etihad’s operating costs. However, according to Hogan, their forward thinking strategy adopted earlier on, has helped them offset much of its negative effect. “Etihad Airways undertook an aggressive fuel hedging programme at the end of 2006. We bought in advance 70 per cent of fuel needed for 2007 and 82 per cent of our fuel needs for 2008. Next year we're hedged at 41 per cent and at two per cent for 2010,” he said.
“That forward thinking has helped our operating costs enormously, particularly when there are many airlines around the world who haven't hedged at all and have had to pay the market rate, day in day out while the cost of fuel rose.”
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