Etihad Airways signed its first code-sharing agreement with a Chinese airline and started flights yesterday to one of China's biggest cities, strengthening its presence in the world's second-biggest economy.
Hainan Airlines will place its "HU" code on Etihad Airways flights between Abu Dhabi and Etihad's three gateway cities in China - Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.
The deal will extend to Etihad flights beyond Abu Dhabi to Sudan's Khartoum International Airport.
Subject to regulatory approvals, the arrangement will start from January 10.
"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," said James Hogan, Etihad's chief executive. "We look forward to expanding the relationship to include more destinations over time."
The deal will extend to both airlines' loyalty programmes, enabling passengers to earn miles on each other's flights.
It is Etihad's 35th code-sharing pact with a global airline and follows a similar deal signed in February with Air New Zealand.
Etihad has also expanded its global coverage this year with a strategic alliance with Virgin Blue of Australia, which opened up 44 more destinations to Etihad customers.
In another move that increases Etihad's presence in China, the airline yesterday started flights to Chengdu in south-west China. The capital of Sichuan province will be served by four non-stop, return services per week.
It will be the first direct flight link between the UAE and the Chinese province.
"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 Emirates and China, already the UAE's third-largest trading partner," said Mr Hogan.
Forecast demand from the passenger and cargo sector was strong and the airline expected to go daily when it was commercially viable, he said. The airline will operate a two-class Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the route.
While Etihad has been carving out a bigger slice of the fast-emerging Chinese market this week, Emirates Airline is expanding its foothold in Europe.
The airline said yesterday it was launching a fourth A380 service from March 25 to London Heathrow.
The new flight will mean Emirates becomes by far the largest A380 operator to use Heathrow, with four of the double-decker aircraft to serve the airport daily.
It announced last month it was starting a third daily A380 service from January 24.
"This demonstrates the beauty of the A380 - its ability to increase our service to our passengers in style, and without adding traffic to London Heathrow's busy schedule," the airline said.