Abu Dhabi’s national airline Etihad has been granted traffic rights to serve Australia and the carrier expects to launch its first ever flights Down Under in the next few months.
Details of the schedules are sketchy. But Etihad’s first service is expected to operate to either Melbourne or Sydney probably using one of the carrier’s long range Airbus A340-500s. The service is expected to appeal to premium passengers as Etihad’s A340-500s feature fully flat bed seating both in first and business class. Later the carrier may switch to A340-600s on these routes. It has four of these larger Airbuses on order with the first two entering its fleet next year.
Like Gulf Air at Bahrain and Emirates at Dubai, Etihad is expected to offer connecting possibilities at its Abu Dhabi hub to cater for the voluminous traffic flow along this route linking Europe with Australia.
The increasing number of Australasia route services being mounted by the Gulf carriers comes at a time when the traditional European players are cutting flights.
Alitalia, KLM, Lufthansa and Olympic have all pulled out of Australia in recent years citing poor or non-existent profits. And now, following the withdrawal of Austrian Airlines (which currently serves Melbourne and Sydney from Vienna) at the end of March, it means that there will only be two European airlines serving Australia: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Both serve only Sydney and, in BA’s case, this is a far cry from times gone by when BA went to Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
One notable Gulf omission is Qatar Airways. But the Doha national airline plans to operate flights at some stage provided it can gain the necessary traffic rights.
In other news, Etihad will launch flights to Kuala Lumpur from Abu Dhabi on January 16. The six times a week service will be operated by an A340-300 configured for 10 first, 30 business and 225 economy seats. Departure from Abu Dhabi is at 0240 arriving in Kuala Lumpur at 1330 and returning at 1500 to reach the Gulf at 1815.
Flying from London, there’s a good connection if you depart Heathrow. But the news isn’t so good on the way back. When the flight from Kuala Lumpur reaches Abu Dhabi there’s an eight hour gap until the next connection (which is to Gatwick rather than Heathrow) departs.
Report by Alex McWhirter