x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Etihad meets passenger target

Etihad Airways met its target of flying six million passengers last year for a 34 per cent rise in passenger traffic from 2007.

Etihad Airways hired more than 2,700 employees last year and increased passenger traffic 34 per cent to pass the six million mark, capping a record year in spite of slowing demand for international air travel. The five-year-old Abu Dhabi airline carried 22,000 passengers above the six million figure during the year. The 22,000 figure is roughly the same number of passengers the airline carried on Dec 19 - its busiest day of the year. The figures are in stark contrast to airlines in the US and Europe, which grounded aircraft and laid off pilots as fuel prices soared, followed by a sharp economic downturn. Airlines worldwide lost US$5.2 billion (Dh19.1bn), including $200 million for the 35 carriers in the Middle East last year, according to the International Air Transport Association. "The fourth quarter was a particularly pleasing feature of Etihad's strong performance during 2008," said Iain Burns, the vice president of corporate communications at Etihad. "While many other airlines dumped capacity and still saw their seat factors fall, we bucked the trend. "We added ASKs (available seat kilometres) in the last three months of the year, additional frequencies to London Heathrow and Sydney at the end of October... and yet we still saw our seat factors rise compared with the same period the previous year." Six new routes were launched - to Beijing, Minsk, Almaty, Kozhikode, Chennai and Moscow. Two routes were launched in 2007, suggesting the airline has taken a more moderate approach to growth after adding 11 new routes in 2003 and another 17 in 2005, which prompted Booze Allen Hamilton, the management consultant, to name Etihad the fastest-growing airline in history. Etihad's success stems in part from capitalising on the Gulf's natural geographic advantage for flights between Asia and Europe. "The latest long-range aircraft technologies, coupled with the region's central position between major global population centres, means the Middle East is one stop to virtually anywhere on the globe," said the Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation in a recent report. The mix of religious pilgrims, expatriate workers and proximity to India all helped the airline weather the global economic slowdown, Mr Burns said. "The segmentation of Etihad's passenger traffic is extremely diverse and very different to that of many of its European and North American rivals, who tend to be much more heavily exposed to the global economic slowdown as a direct consequence of the major markets they serve." The airline's average load factor, or percentage of seats filled, grew from 69 per cent in 2007 to 75 per cent last year throughout the airline's network of 50 destinations in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Its busiest sector was flights to Asia, which averaged 84 per cent capacity in economy class. It also increased the size of its fleet, adding nine aircraft for a total of 42 narrow-bodied and wide-bodied aircraft, and walked away with 17 awards for service and innovation, including "airline of the year" from the British Travel Awards. By 2020, Etihad plans to double its number of destinations to 100 and carry 25 million passengers a year, helped by a flood of new aircraft expected for delivery in the next decade. In July, the airline placed the largest aircraft order of the year at the Farnborough Air Show in England. It ordered 100 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus and options on another 105. If all options are taken the deal would be worth $43bn. Also by 2020, the workforce could swell from more than 7,000 to 27,000. But the biggest milestone looming for the airline is its profitability date. James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad, has said he still expected to break-even in 2010, provided fuel costs stabilised and passenger demand did not suffer from the lingering effects of the slowing global economy. igale@thenational.ae