Etihad Airways eyeing opportunities in India, Asia

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James Hogan (left), Etihad Airways CEO, along with Air Berlin CEO. Photo –

Etihad Airways, which has been aggressively expanding on a global level through stake purchases in firms like Air Berlin and Virgin Australia, announced on Sunday it is set to extend its geographical reach to India and other Asian markets.

Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier is competing with regional rivals like Emirates and Qatar Airways and wants to secure more airline stakes, its chief executive said in an phone interview with Reuters on Sunday.

“Possibly one or two (partnerships) more and that will be it,” James Hogan said when asked about plans to pick up more stakes in other airlines.

He added that after its push into Australia with a 10% stake in Virgin Australia and Europe with 29.2% in Air Berlin and 3% in Aer Lingus, the airline will now look for growth in Asia.

“We are very clear that India and Asia represent an opportunity,” said Hogan.

He said the airline has been receiving offers from Indian carriers.

“We get a number of options. It has to meet our formula. We are in no rush. We have to make sure that it makes sense from a network, operation and revenue perspective.”

New Delhi recently decided to allow foreign airlines to buy stakes of up to 40% in local carriers last month, a move that came as a lifeline to the country’s debt-ridden carriers.

Ailing Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet and Jet Airways are all said to be on a lookout for strategic investors.

Etihad on Sunday announced revenue of $1.3 billion in the third quarter, a 19% rise year-on-year. Passenger revenue was boosted by code sharing and partnerships – revenues from these two categories jumped 51% to $182 million.

“Over the next 7 to 8 years we are taking another 100 aircraft. So we will also continue to grow organically and continue with our code share agreements,” Hogan said.

Etihad Airways has created a partnership with 38 airlines and has a combined network of 315 destinations, more than any other Middle Eastern carrier.

In its statement, the Abu Dhabi-based airline said Air Berlin made a significant contribution to revenue. The two airlines’ code sharing and joint marketing agreements have delivered $51 million in revenue to Etihad year-to-date, surpassing initial full-year estimates.

Hogan said more opportunities may also emerge in Europe after the Air Berlin stake purchase.

Last year, Etihad carried 8.3 million passengers through its hub in Abu Dhabi. It is on course to carry 10 million in 2012.

The airline CEO said it is on track to deliver full-year profitability. However, no details of third-quarter profits were provided. Cargo revenues in the quarter grew 6% to $181 million.

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