Etihad announces major expansion in India

Close on the heels of the government approving Etihad Airways' acquisition of a 24 per cent stake in Indian carrier Jet Airways and a simultaneous increase in bilateral air services agreement between the two governments, the Abu Dhabi state carrier has announced a major expansion of its India operations.

Etihad Airways, now a minority equity holder of Jet Airways, has shrugged off threats of a court ruling against the stake deal and seat sharing agreement, and announced plans to immediately double the number of flights from Abu Dhabi to five major Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai.

In separate statements issued today, Etihad said while the flights between Abu Dhabi and Delhi/Mumbai will be doubled, the number of seats will be tripled.

As an immediate measure, the Gulf-based airline said it would add a second daily service on these two routes and upgrade the existing service by introducing wide body jets.

There will be four flights from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi in 12 hours, between 8 at night and 7 am while another four flights will operate between Abu Dhabi and Mumbai roughly about the same time.

Jet Airways will market the new Etihad Airways flights as per the airlines' existing code-sharing agreement.

Subject to regulatory approvals, Etihad plans to extend the code-sharing agreement with Jet to other markets in the Middle East, North America and Europe.

Etihad hopes to tap more outbound traffic originating in India to Abu Dhabi and beyond, including a host of destinations such as the US and Europe.

Under the revised air services agreement (ASA) between India and Abu Dhabi, the number of seats on offer between the two countries will get four times the present number of 13,300 by 2015.

A statement issued by Etihad today said both airlines are exploring synergies ranging from integration of their loyalty programmes to shared airport facilities and offices, common training of pilots and flight attendants and deployment of joint sales forces in markets served by both carriers.

Etihad, which is a 24 per cent equity holder in Jet Airways, is increasingly gaining control of the operations of the Indian carrier, which looks set to become a totally Etihad run operation.

Air India as also Dubai's Emirates Airline, the most-preferred carrier of Gulf Indians, stand to lose as Etihad increases it India stake.

''Central to the Etihad Airways plan is the use of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, as a global hub connecting international passengers and freight with flights to and from India. Pending the opening of a new facility, United States-bound passengers will be able to clear US immigration and customs at Abu Dhabi Airport,'' the airline said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is has issued notice to the central government in respond to a petition filed by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy seeking a direction to quash Jet-Etihad equity deal on the ground that it was against public interest.

"If we are convinced then we would certainly set it aside," the bench said at the hearing of the plea.