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Wed 7 Mar 2012 09:05 PM

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Etihad upbeat over earnings after 2011 profit

Airline's chief commercial officer sees potential this year but fears impact of fuel price

Etihad upbeat over earnings after 2011 profit

Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad Airways is upbeat on its future earnings after posting its first full-year profit in 2011, its chief commercial officer told Reuters on Wednesday.

"Every year there is new potential. That will continue in the coming years," Peter Baumgartner said in an interview at the ITB Berlin, the world's biggest travel fair.

Etihad Airways last month posted a $14m net profit for 2011, its first since inception nine years ago.

"The operating environment in 2011 was not optimal, but there is always something. This year it is the fuel price," Baumgartner said, adding the European business environment was also "not as good as one would hope".

The carrier's partnerships with airlines such as Air Berlin and American Airlines, which generate 15 percent of its annual revenues, will help it remain on a growth path in the future, he said.

Unlisted Etihad lifted its stake in Air Berlin, Europe's sixth-largest carrier, to 29.2 percent in December and early this year announced it was taking a 40 percent interest in Air Seychelles.

Etihad's chief executive James Hogan told a newspaper last month he was is interested in holding talks with the Irish government over the sale of its 25 percent stake in Aer Lingus .

But Baumgartner indicated there were no major announcements in the offing.

"We speak with all industry partners. But the reports in the newspapers are interpretations by the media on which we cannot and should not comment ... We are not planning anything big right now."

He said Etihad was so far very satisfied with its partnership with Air Berlin.

Separately, Air Berlin Chief Executive Hartmut Mehdorn said he believed the partnership with Etihad was good for Air Berlin customers.

"Etihad can use the airports in Berlin and Duesseldorf as hubs for Europe and America, and we can use the airport in Abu Dhabi as a hub for destinations in India, Australia and China," he told journalists.

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