BY OUR AVIATION CORRESPONDENT
May 17, 2005: Etihad Airways, national airline of the United Arab Emirates, is planning to add six new destinations to India, including Kochi, Hyderabad and Bangalore, buoyant on an increasing number of passengers flying between India and the UAE.
Etihad Airways has sought regulatory approvals from the Government of India for commencing the services, which are expected to begin in this year. Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Kolkata are other destinations the airline plans to commence operations to.
India has become the second largest market for Etihad Airways after United Kingdom, and with the opening up of new routes and more flights, the airline expects India to exceed UK in terms of revenue generation.
"India is a growing market and we are bullish on our operations here and expect a significant growth from this market," Etihad Airways General Manager (South Asia) Charles Phelps-Penry said.
Etihad Airways had begun its Indian operations in September 2004, with its first scheduled flight between Abu Dhabi and Mumbai. It had an initial frequency of seven flights per week operated with a wide-bodied A330 aircraft.
The load factor on Indian flight routes is currently in the range of 65 per cent to 75 per cent and Etihad Airways expects this to increase to 90 per cent during peak season. The airline intends to maintain the load factor at 75 per cent during the year, despite a heavy competition on Indian routes.
Etihad Airways has also sought government approvals to increase its number of flights by 14 a week to Mumbai and seven flights a week to Delhi. At present, it operates seven flights a week to Mumbai and three to Delhi.
The airline is also acquiring 24 Airbus and five Boeing aircraft, which would be pressed in service on Indian routes, apart from the present four Airbus 330-200s aircraft and one Airbus A340-300 and a Boeing 767 aircraft.
It had also signed $8 billion deals for the aircraft and going forward in 2006, the target would be to acquire an aircraft every month.
UAE's national airline will also increase the frequency of its flights to Asia, starting June one, 2005, with introduction of daily flights to Bangkok and five flights a week to Colombo. Etihad currently flies four times a week to Bangkok and three times a week to Colombo.
The enhanced services to the two Asian capitals were announced at the Arabian Travel Market 2005, currently underway in Dubai.
"We are confident that the increased frequency of flights to Bangkok and Colombo will further motivate our guests to explore this vibrant region rich in tradition and cultural heritage," said Etihad Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saif Al Nahyan, who is also Chairman of the Civil Aviation Department in Abu Dhabi, said.
The expansion comes at an appropriate time as Etihad Airways gears up for the busy summer season. Asia is emerging as one of the key travel destinations with Bangkok as the major hub in the region. The airline plans to increase its routes to Asia significantly by the end of this year in anticipation of the new aircraft that will support its ambitious expansion plans.
Etihad Airways serves Amman, Bahrain, Bangkok, Beirut, Colombo, Damascus, Geneva, London (Heathrow), London (Gatwick), Mumbai and Munich.
Meanwhile, Etihad's Crystal Cargo is also spreading its wings wider with expanding its services further to Italy and South Europe, effective May 12, 2005.
Etihad Airways is also introducing a second regional freighter - an Airbus A310-300F with a 39 tonne payload - and will fly from Abu Dhabi to Milan (Malpensa Airport) every Thursday and Sunday. Additional new routes, including Khartoum, Almaty, Addis Ababa, Bangalore and Chennai, would also be launched soon.
"Despite market volatility and increasing fuel prices, there is a growing demand for freighter services, particularly in UAE, where we are ideally positioned at the global crossroads," the chairman said.
Etihad Crystal Cargo took delivery of its first Airbus A300-600 regional freighter in January this year and is now further extending operations by upgrading its services with the addition of this new freighter.
Etihad Airways had earlier announced that it will begin three non-stop flights a week from Abu Dhabi to Munich, starting June 2005, an increase from the present three times a week services to Munich via Geneva.
BY OUR AVIATION CORRESPONDENT