As the curtain came down, unveiling the first of the Etihad Regional-branded planes, so too was launched a new strategy in the UAE flag-carrier’s rapid global expansion.
But for an airline that has sent tidal waves through the global airline industry thanks to a flurry of equity and codeshare partnerships — seven and 48, respectively, to date — in the past few years, this deal was different.
It is the first time Etihad has put its name to one of the airlines it has a stake in, with the 33.3 percent buy-in of Swiss carrier Darwin Airline in November now morphing into the airline’s rebranding to Etihad Regional.
Under the deal, the airline will continue to be operated day-to-day by the Darwin Airline team from its existing headquarters in Lugano, Switzerland. However, Etihad’s mark is clear.
The fleet of 10 Saab 2000 turboprop aircraft will fly under the Etihad Regional name and, in a sign of the Gulf carrier’s financial muscle, its network will be expanded from 15 to 34 destinations by mid-2014. It will link in to seven gateways served by Etihad Airways such as Berlin and — from June — Zurich, while it will also link to the existing networks of airberlin and Air Serbia — two more of Etihad’s seven equity airline partners.
As Etihad CEO James Hogan explains, the two airlines will share resources, codeshare agreements — starting with 16 routes in phase one — and Etihad’s rewards programme, in a deal that Hogan argues gives travellers more choice.
“What it achieves for Darwin Airlines is global connectivity, for Etihad Regional, regional access throughout Europe and for us at Etihad Airways the opportunity to launch a new brand,” he told the world’s aviation press at the launch at Zurich Airport last month.
“It does deepen the partnership strategy, because it takes us into secondary markets where you will not see an Etihad Airways widebody aircraft operating throughout Europe.”
While Etihad, which is expected to become a $7bn airline in 2014, has been pursuing its expansion strategy for a number of years, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) says the Etihad Regional deal is significant for several reasons, including the fact that it allows Etihad to “connect the dots” in Europe for itself and its partners, linking hubs but also tertiary cities such as Zurich and Amsterdam that have largely been overlooked by Gulf carriers.
“Etihad Regional is not a move on its own. It’s a continuation of an acquisitive process that the carrier is engaged in to secure access to more markets and complement and accelerate its own growth,” CAPA senior analyst Middle East & Africa, Simon Elsegood, says.
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