Abu Dhabi's national airline Etihad has set March 26 as the date of its inaugural flight to Australia (see Online news, January 11).
When fellow regional carriers Gulf Air and Emirates flew Down Under for the first time they had to be content with Melbourne. Only after proving themselves did the Australian authorities (renowned for their restrictive aeropolitics) permit them to add Sydney.
But in this case Etihad has scooped the pools, as it's been allowed to serve Sydney from day one. Etihad will ply the route non-stop three times a week with long-range Airbus A340-500s starting March 26. From June 26 the service will upgraded to daily.
The A340-500 is configured with 12 seats in first, 28 in business and 200 in economy class. Unlike the planes used by its Gulf rivals, Etihad's A340-500s are fitted with fully flat bed seats in both first and business class.
Flight EY450 departs Abu Dhabi every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1010 arriving the following day in Sydney at 0615. After a nine hour spell on the ground, flight EY451 returns from Sydney every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 1520 to reach Abu Dhabi at 0010 early the next day.
Says Etihad chief executive James Hogan, "As well as direct traffic between these two great cities we are aiming to attract connecting passengers from throughout the Middle East and Europe, who are looking to travel via Abu Dhabi to Sydney for business and holidays."
But when it comes to connections, UK originating passengers will require a longer transit than they might have expected. In the case of Londoners they'll have to be flexible and use different airports for departure and return.
On the way out evening flight EY304 from Heathrow connects perfectly in Abu Dhabi with the onward flight to Sydney. But on the return, Heathrow-bound passengers have an eight or nine hour transit in Abu Dhabi unless they opt for the Gatwick connection (EY307) which involves a two hour wait.
Mancunians need an overnight stop in Abu Dhabi on the way out but can connect easily on the way home. Unlike Dubai, the airport at Abu Dhabi is far out of town (44 km) and there isn't the same range of hotel accommodation nearby. All the more reason, perhaps, to stopover for a couple of days.
Fares for the new service are being finalised but are expected to be competitive.For more information go to etihadairways.com.
Report by Alex McWhirter