Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, plans to quadruple its passenger capacity to 30 million and nearly increase its fleet to 150 planes by the end of the decade, the airline’s CEO told Reuters in an interview in New Delhi on Thursday.
Etihad’s ambitions coincide with a shift in strategy to focus on medium to long-haul destinations, away from ultra-long-haul flights where competition is severe and profitability is difficult, according to CEO Antonoaldo Neves.
“Etihad has India as a priority,” Neves said, adding that the country is among its top three markets. He declined to name the other two.
The idea is to connect places like China, Southeast Asia, India and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries to Europe and the East Coast of the United States, Neves said.
Air travel in India is surging with domestic passenger numbers reaching pre-COVID levels and international traffic gathering pace as the country’s economy grows.
Etihad, which flies to places like Delhi and Mumbai, has identified six other Indian cities it does not serve but wants to launch flights to, he said.
Last October, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund ADQ took full control of the airline, appointing Neves who had previously led a turnaround at Portugal’s TAP.
“Our mandate is very clear. We don’t fly to places where we don’t make money,” he said.
The deeper push into India also comes as Tata Group-owned Air India is mapping out an aggressive expansion with non-stop flights to Europe and the U.S., and budget carrier IndiGo is growing its international network through its codeshare deal with Turkish Airlines.
Neves said the competition did not worry him and there is space for everyone in the world’s fastest-growing aviation market.
However, Etihad has about 10,000 seats a week of unutilized flying rights between India and Abu Dhabi, he said, which puts it in a better position compared with rivals that are clamoring for more access amid government pushback to open its skies further.
Etihad’s growth will also be organic, Neves said, and while it wants to do more codeshare and interline agreements, it will not look at mergers or equity partnerships. Etihad once held a stake in India’s Jet Airways that is now in bankruptcy.