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Etihad Airways sees opportunity in India, Asia

Reuters  Abu Dhabi, October 07, 2012
First Published: 20:18 IST(7/10/2012) | Last Updated: 20:21 IST(7/10/2012)

Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi's flag carrier which has expanded globally through stake purchases in firms like Air Berlin and Virgin Australia, will look to extend its geographical reach to India and other Asian markets.

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The Gulf carrier, in competition with regional rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways, will also look to secure more airline stakes, its chief executive said in an phone interview on Sunday.

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

Hogan said 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 the country's 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."

India 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.

Dubai's Emirates has denied plans to buy a stake in any Indian carrier.

Etihad on Sunday reported 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 per cent 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.

The airline's 38 partners created a combined network of 315 destinations, more than any other Middle Eastern carrier, Etihad said.

Air Berlin made a significant contribution to revenue, it added. 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.

In 2011, Etihad carried 8.3 million passengers through its hub in Abu Dhabi. It is on course to carry 10 million in 2012.

Hogan 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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