Overshadowed perhaps by the multi-billion dollar aircraft orders today is the news that Etihad intends to move into Europe’s regional market.
Subject to regulatory approval, the Abu Dhabi carrier will acquire a one-third stake in Lugano-based Darwin. The Swiss airline will then be rebranded as Etihad Regional.
By the middle of next year, the plan is to operate no fewer than 21 new routes serving 18 destinations in the UK and mainland Europe.
It is true that Etihad already has a European presence through its stakeholding in Air Berlin and Air Serbia.
But Etihad Regional will be something quite different because it plans to open up new, less busy routes which would offer service to some of Europe’s wealthiest markets.
The new routes would also feed Etihad’s international services out of Europe. It means that regional passengers would have access to global flying thanks to Etihad’s Abu Dhabi hub.
Ireland-based aviation expert Patrick Edmond said: “The Darwin deal allows Etihad to build feed from secondary Euro points. The Gulf traffic goes into ‘turbo’ mode.”
Details of the new gatways and routes are as follows:
- By June 2014, Etihad Regional will include six European gateways served by Etihad itself — Geneva, Amsterdam, Paris, Dusseldorf, Belgrade and, commencing that month (June 2014), Zurich
- In April 2014, there will be nine new routes — Dusseldorf to Berlin, Cambridge and London City; Berlin to Poznan and Wroclaw; Geneva to Toulouse; Zurich to Leipzig; and Rome to Tirana and Zagreb
- In May 2014, Etihad will start flights from Zurich to Geneva, Florence and Turin; and from Geneva to Belgrade
- In June 2014, the airline will launch flights from Zurich to Linz, Graz, Verona and Lyon; and from Geneva to Bordeaux, Marseille, Nantes and Verona.
As a result, someone living in Cambridge will be able to fly to Australia via Amsterdam or Dusseldorf rather than trek to Heathrow. Or a resident of Linz or Toulouse will be able to access south-east Asia through Geneva or Zurich instead of via Vienna or Paris.
Maurizio Merlo, CEO of Darwin Airlines, said: “We have built a solid position in regional markets across Europe and this partnership enables our customers to access the global network of destinations offered by Etihad while providing fresh options for overseas visitors to access Europe on our flights.
“This arrangement is new and exciting. It represents fresh thinking in our industry.”
In the final analysis Etihad, like its Gulf rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways, is stepping up the challenge to Europe’s national airlines. It will offer regional travellers the convenience of flying long-haul from their local airport.