Etihad cosies up to S'pore
IT IS only a matter of time before Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, doubles its routes to Singapore, its head, Mr James Hogan, told MyPaper yesterday in Singapore.
The carrier's president and chief executive also wants to open a lounge at Changi Airport, a decision that "lies in the hands of the airport authorities", he said, adding that meetings were held to discuss the prospect.
Etihad began flying to Singapore thrice weekly in September 2007. This expanded in February last year, with the carrier providing daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Singapore. "With time, we will move to double-daily," said Mr Hogan, adding that it is a strong route.
Asked about Etihad's plans for Asia, he gave MyPaper a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the world's fastest-growing carriers.
The secret, he said, lies in balance and not betting too heavily in one area.
"When you run a global company, every year, different regions of the world have different shocks...whether it's economic, whether it's pandemic, whether it's weather, whether it's war," Mr Hogan said, adding that the carrier plans for at least two such shocks per year.
"What's more important is whether you have the ability to move your assets if you need to. And you obviously have a long-term network vision."
The whole airline business, he let on, is about managing traffic flows throughout this network. "You have the religious traffic...you have the construction-worker traffic, the guest-worker traffic coming up over Abu Dhabi going into the Middle East region, you have the leisure flows coming out of Europe, Australasia, South-east Asia, and you are seeing more South-east Asian visitors to Abu Dhabi. So you are managing those flows continuously."
The plan, he said, is to grow the premium business in Singapore, and develop the leisure and corporate segments.
The Abu Dhabi-based carrier had what Mr Hogan called a "game-changing year" in 2012. It has yet to announce its profitability figures for last year, but Mr Hogan said that numbers have ballooned further.
In 2012, it clocked a net profit of US$42 million (S$53 million), up 200 per cent on 2011's US$14 million. Its growth strategy has been to buy stakes in ailing airlines to expand its global footprint.
The minority stakes amassed by Etihad stretches from Air Berlin and Air Seychelles to Virgin Australia and Aer Lingus. It recently bought a stake in Jet Airways, India's premier international airline.
It is now holding talks with Alitalia, the troubled Italian carrier. According to Reuters, sources close to the matter say the deal could involve Etihad buying a 40 per cent stake for as much as 300 million euros (S$519 million).
But it is "too early to tell", said Mr Hogan, who said that Etihad is working with Alitalia's management on a plan both sides can agree on. "We have to be convinced, whatever we do with Alitalia, that the airline can move back to profitability," he said.