x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Etihad takes off with more passengers and freight

The carrier sees a rise in customers as it gears up for a new direct service to Seoul.

FARNBOROUGH // Etihad Airways saw a rise in the number of passengers and the amount of freight carried in the first half of the year, and says it is gearing up to begin a new direct service to Seoul. In a press conference held at the Farnborough International Airshow in the hold of an Airbus A330-200 Freighter, the latest addition to Etihad's fleet, the chief executive James Hogan said the airline was experiencing a strong recovery in demand following the economic downturn.

"The trends are promising," Mr Hogan said, with forward ticket bookings rising steadily. The airline served 3.3 million customers in the first six months of the year, an 11 per cent gain from the same period last year, and was targeting full-year traffic numbers of more than 7 million passengers, he said. The seven-year-old airline based in Abu Dhabi has become one of the fastest growing ever and will have 65 destinations by the end of the year, and aims to become profitable next year.

In the first half of this year it raised its seat occupancy levels by 1 per cent to 72.5 per cent, and boosted its cargo tonnage by 21.6 per cent and cargo revenues by 59 per cent. Etihad also finalised a contract with GE for aircraft engines yesterday. It will buy 78 GEnx-1B engines to power the 35 Boeing 787 Dreamliners it has on order. The engine agreement was first announced at the Paris Air Show last year, and is worth US$1.8 billion (Dh6.61bn) at list prices.

The services to South Korea, which are scheduled to start in December, come on the back of strengthened ties with the UAE. South Korean companies were the recipients of the UAE's landmark $20bn nuclear power contract, which has been followed by numerous official visits by dignitaries from both countries to pursue other areas of co-operation. "We expect the increasing trade relations between the two countries will lead to growing numbers of business travellers," said Mr Hogan.

Etihad is scheduling a daily return service to Incheon International Airport from Abu Dhabi International Airport using its Airbus A330-200 aircraft. The services will make 2,800 weekly seats available between the two capitals. Etihad's growing focus on Asia includes the introduction of its new freighter, which will be able to carry up to 64 metric tonnes of goods and has a range of 7,400km. The plane will be used to transport goods from Asian manufacturing bases such as Guangzhou and be redistributed by Etihad passenger aircraft in Abu Dhabi for final destinations in Europe.

Etihad is the launch customer of the new A330 cargo aircraft and will receive a second plane in September, with entry into commercial service a month later. igale@thenational.ae