Etihad Airways has showed signs of recovery, posting an operating loss of US$476 million for 2021.

This marks a 72 per cent improvement compared to 2020 (US£1.7 bn), and a 41 per cent improvement against pre-pandemic results in 2019 (US$802 million).

The airline carried 3.46 million passengers in 2021, compared to 4.15 million in 2020, with an average seat load factor of 39.6 per cent.

Cargo revenues, meanwhile, increased by 49 per cent to an all-time high of US$1.73 billion for the airline. Cargo operations posted a 27 per cent year-on-year increase in freight carried in 2021.

The carrier posted passenger revenues of US$1.07 billion in 2021, down by 14 per cent year-on-year, with passenger revenues recovering to 50 per cent of 2019 levels in December.

Passenger loads doubled in the second half of the year and reached 70.1 per cent in December during the winter holiday period. The airline also recorded a strong surge in passengers in the final quarter of the year following the relaxation of mandatory quarantine periods in Abu Dhabi in September.

The airline also decreased operating costs by a further US$110 million, despite a US$197 million increase in fuel costs. Fixed overhead costs also fell by 14 per cent (US$110 million) and 20 per cent (US$90 million) respectively, enabling the airline to “maintain strong liquidity in 2021” as a result.

Tony Douglas, group CEO, commented:

“In another year of global uncertainty, Etihad Airways has continued to move forward, strengthen its business, and build on its world-class travel proposition. As always, this has been thanks to our remarkable people who have gone above and beyond to make the most of every opportunity. Despite the slowdown caused by Omicron, we are confident that the spring and summer season will continue to see a resurgence in travel as more people return to the skies.

“We look forward to our guests being able to experience our state-of-the-art Airbus A350s when they debut later this year, taking pride of place alongside our Boeing 787s. With one of the most fuel-efficient fleets in the world and with sustainability at the very top of our agenda, we will continue to pave the way for more sustainable flying in 2022 and beyond.”

Adam Boukadida, chief financial officer, added:

“Despite Covid-19 suppressing global travel demand for a second year running, we have continued to transform Etihad Airways into a more efficient business, delivering additional line-by-line savings and further optimising our cost base. Our record cargo operations have provided much-needed uplift, helping to more than double monthly operating revenue between January and December.

“Pushing the frontiers of sustainable financing, we issued the first-ever sustainability-linked ESG loan in aviation, while at the same time reducing our outstanding debt by more than 20%. All these factors combined resulted in a strong year-end liquidity position, aligned to our pre-pandemic levels, and in a steadfast ‘A with a stable outlook’ credit rating reaffirmed by Fitch.”

The airline flew to a total of 71 destinations across 47 countries last year, and launched or resumed operations to 13 destinations. This included the launch of year-round services to Tel Aviv and Vienna, and seasonal services to Malaga, Mykonos and Santorini.

The total fleet at the end of 2021 comprised 67 aircraft with an average age of 5.7 years, and the airline plans to enter its new A350 into service in the second quarter of the year.

In sustainability news, the airline achieved a 5.6 per cent reduction in the emissions intensity of its passenger fleet in 2021, and operated its most sustainable flight ever from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi. The airline’s Etihad Greenliner aircraft also saw its carbon emissions totally offset for the entirety of 2021, totalling 79.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions across 834 flights.

Abu Dhabi recently changed its testing requirements, meaning that fully vaccinated travellers no longer need a pre-departure PCR test to enter.