is continuing to build its presence in the Australia market with new flights, and it plans to make further inroads by bringing some of its first to Australian cities.
The carrier’s latest move is to boost its three-weekly Brisbane schedule to daily starting in February, which will increase Etihad’s weekly connections between Australia and Abu Dhabi to 25 flights.
At the announcement of the new flights in Brisbane, Etihad CEO James Hogan confirmed that Sydney and Melbourne will be among the first four markets to be served by the airline’s initial A380s, in addition to London and New York. Hogan says the first A380s are scheduled to arrive in the last quarter of 2014 or early 2015.
While other foreign carriers such asand have more flights to Australia, Etihad has a major role in the booming Australian market through to its strategic alliance with .
Etihad currently operates daily flights to Melbourne using Airbus-500s and -600s, and 11 flights a week to Sydney with A340-600s. Its current three-weekly Brisbane route is served with Airbus -200s.
The UAE-based carrier also code-shares on Virgin Australia’s three weekly flights from Sydney to Abu Dhabi.
Unlike the rest of Etihad’s Australia flights, which are direct to Abu Dhabi, the Brisbane route is one-stop via Singapore. Hogan says this arrangement is working well for the Brisbane market, and the airline will focus on the frequency increase before it considers direct flights to Brisbane.
Hogan says the additional Brisbane flights will give the carrier “the level of penetration we need at the moment” in Australia. He indicates that no new Australian destinations are imminent, although the airline may introduce Perth flights “in a few years.”
Increasing the Brisbane flights to daily will make the service more attractive to corporate and business traffic, Hogan says. State and local authorities had already put incentives in place when Etihad first began flying to Brisbane in 2007. Increasing these flights to daily also triggers additional rebates under the original agreement.
Meanwhile, Etihad has opened a new line maintenance base in Melbourne, which is its second in Australian and seventh outside Abu Dhabi. The airline has invested more than A$10 million (US$10.5 million) in line maintenance operations in Australia since 2007.
Separately, European media are reporting that the battle for control ofis heating up with Etihad for the first time formally indicating that it would be interested in buying out ’s stake in its Irish rival, and Hogan quoted by numerous sources saying that he would be “very happy to have that discussion” with Ryanair.
Etihad currently holds a 3% stake in Aer Lingus and is looking to code-share with the Irish airline. Etihad also has held talks with the Irish government, which is looking to sell its 25% stake in Aer Lingus. The government is adamant that it will not allow Ryanair to take control of Aer Lingus.
Etihad cannot take majority control of Aer Lingus, as non-European investors cannot own more than 49% of a EU-based airline. Also, with Ryanair holding 30% of Aer Lingus from previous takeover attempts, Etihad’s approach to Ryanair means it would be restricted from acquiring the Irish government’s entire holding.
Etihad’s comments come a month after Ryanair issued its third offer to acquire Aer Lingus, this time offering €1.30 (US$1.60) per share to take full control of the airline. However, Aer Lingus management is fiercely opposed to the proposal, saying it undervalues the airline.
Aer Lingus also argues that Ryanair’s takeover attempt is anti-competitive. The European Commission already has opened an investigation into the anti-competitive implications of Ryanair’s bid, and the UK Consumer Commission is considering the effects of Ryanair’s existing Aer Lingus shareholding.
Apart from its Aer Lingus holding, Etihad has minority stakes in Virgin Australia, Air Seychelles and. Negotiations with are limited to code-sharing and do not include talk of an equity investment, says Hogan.