Etihad Airways continues to see India as an important market and is betting on the wide-body Airbus A350 aircraft to drive demand from the Indian market, vice president, Indian subcontinent, Etihad Airways – Neerja Bhatia told CNBC-TV18 in a recent interview.
The airline has been undertaking initiatives during the last two years of the pandemic to increase efficiency and is now geared up for operating a full schedule from India.
“We have a lot of history in terms of the relationship between India and UAE. The proximity that UAE has with India is also beneficial. There is a huge Indian diaspora who are living in UAE, it is a home away from home for all the Indians working there and living there… India is a very important market for us.
The prospects for demand from India are also strong on the back of its growing economy, increasing middle-class income, student and corporate traffic as well as people travelling for visiting friends and relatives in addition to leisure travel.”Neerja Bhatia, Vice President, Indian Subcontinent, Etihad Airways
The airline is operating almost two flights daily from Delhi and Mumbai each, 10 flights per week from Hyderabad, nine flights a week from Bengaluru, and thrice a week from Trivandrum among flight operations from Kochi and Chennai as well.
“We are increasing our capacity and taking a pragmatic approach to network planning, we are becoming agile to cater to all opportunities and demand,” Bhatia added.
The airline is also betting on its freshly inducted Airbus A350-1000 aircraft to drive demand from India. The A350 has 44 business studios and 327 economy seats.
The Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered Airbus A350 offers 25% less fuel burn and CO2 emissions than previous-generation twin-aisle aircraft. This is in line with the airline’s focus on the environment, Bhatia said, adding that the airline has also started a green loyalty program.
In line with its focus on sustainability, the airline has also recently unveiled its new Economy class soft furnishings and tableware, with sustainability and improved passenger experience as primary objectives. This will be launched on board in the fourth quarter of the year.
Etihad posted a loss of USD 476 million for 2021 as compared to a loss of USD 1.70 billion in the year 2020. The airline carried 3.5 million passengers in 2021, with an average seat load factor of 39.6%.
Passenger load doubled in the second half of the year, reaching 70.1% in December as travel demand peaked during the winter holiday period.
While demand has picked up globally for airlines with a spike in leisure as well as corporate traffic, the current challenges for the aviation sector worldwide are the rising fuel prices, which have seen a spike since the Russa-Ukraine war.
This has also resulted in airlines having to re-route their flights, leading to higher flight time and more costs. “Biggest pain point is the ATF prices, divergent routes leading to higher cost,” Bhatia added.
Founded in 2003, Etihad Airways is the national carrier of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, based at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Operating a fleet of narrow and wide-body Airbus and Boeing aircraft, Etihad provides a rapidly expanding network of services within the Middle East and to Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and Australia.
In addition to its core activity of passenger transportation, Etihad earns significant revenue from its cargo operation, Etihad Crystal Cargo. Etihad Airways forms part of the Etihad Aviation Group.