The likelihood of Etihad Airways buying a major shareholding in Aer Lingus looks a little less likely this week with the news that Etihad is taking a 29.21% stake in the Airberlin group, Europe’s sixth largest airline, and thus becoming Airberlin’s largest single shareholder. The strategic partnership offers a combined global network of 239 destinations across 77 countries.
Etihad Airways will codeshare on 36 of Airberlin’s 171 destinations and will sign codeshare agreements with the Airberlin group for all European activities including the Austrian airline Niki and the Swiss airline Belair. Airberlin will codeshare on 24 Etihad destinations.
Etihad Chief Executive James Hogan described the deal as one of the most important in Etihad Airways’ history. “This new partnership expands our network reach, gives us access to 33 million new passengers, and provides us with a real opportunity for global growth. Through Airberlin we gain immediate access to a broad and complementary European market, with outstanding connectivity options for customers of both airlines.”
The question remains: is Etihad still interested in Aer Lingus following this partnership with Airberlin?
Abu Dhabi to Chengdu
Etihad Airways has also commenced scheduled services between its hub in Abu Dhabi and Chengdu in southwest China. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is being served by four non-stop, return services per week using a two-class Airbus A330-200 aircraft with 22 Pearl Business Class and 240 Coral Economy Class seats.
James Hogan said the new route had special significance as the first and only direct flight link between Sichuan province and the United Arab Emirates. “This is a day of celebration for the airline and the communities at both ends of the route. The new services will open convenient new gateways for travel to and from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and stimulate growth of trade between the UAE and China, already the Emirates’ third largest trading partner.”
He said forecast demand from the passenger and cargo sectors was strong and the airline expected to go daily when commercially viable. “The Chengdu Municipal Government and airport authorities have been great supporters and we look forward to working together to make the route a commercial success.”
Dreamliner for Dublin
In other major developments, Etihad Airways has indicated that it will be introducing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on its Dublin – Abu Dhabi route sometime in 2014/2015. The passenger capacity will be up to 300 passengers.
Justin Warby, currently Country Manager Ireland for Etihad Airways, is soon to take up a new position in Etihad’s head office in Abu Dhabi.
Etihad has also signed a codeshare agreement with Hainan Airlines applicable to flights from Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu to Abu Dhabi and Khartoum, and exchanged a Letter of Intent with Sichuan Airlines covering broad areas of commercial co-operation. The codeshare agreement with Hainan Airlines is Etihad’s first codeshare with a Chinese carrier and its 35th with world airlines.
Subject to regulatory approvals, from 10th January 2012, Hainan Airline’s will place its ‘HU’ code on Etihad Airways flights between Abu Dhabi and the airline’s three gateway cities in China: Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai. The arrangement will extend to Etihad Airways flights beyond Abu Dhabi to Khartoum International Airport in Sudan.
James Hogan said: “Working with a major player like Hainan Airlines will increase Chinese passenger numbers on our China-Abu Dhabi services and beyond to popular destinations in Africa, Middle East and Europe. We look forward to expanding the relationship to include more destinations over time.”
The reciprocal agreement will integrate the Etihad Guest and Hainan Airlines Fortune Wings Club loyalty programmes, enabling travellers to earn miles on each other’s flights.
The new codeshare services will go on sale from 10th January 2012, for travel from that date for Beijing and Chengdu flights, and from 1st March 2012 for Shanghai.