Etihad Airways, the flagship airline of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is mulling plans to launch its own passenger flights between Hong Kong and the Emirates, a senior executive has confirmed.
"We hope in the medium term to bring our own tail into the Hong Kong market," said Peter Baumgartner, the airline's chief commercial officer. An Etihad spokesman said the "medium term" was considered to be in the next three years.
The confirmation comes after Air Seychelles launched flights between Hong Kong and Mahé via Abu Dhabi on March 24. Air Seychelles is 40 per cent owned by Etihad, which also has a codeshare agreement with Air Seychelles that allows the carriers to sell seats on each other's aircraft.
Sources indicated that Etihad's equity interest and codeshare with Air Seychelles provides the UAE airline with revenue from the Hong Kong market even though it does not operate passenger services to Hong Kong from Abu Dhabi.
A Transport and Housing Bureau spokeswoman confirmed that Etihad is among the designated carriers that have traffic rights between Hong Kong and the UAE. She said the designated airlines can operate unlimited passenger and freighter flights between Hong Kong and the UAE while other foreign carriers may also fly to the UAE from Hong Kong by exercising fifth freedom traffic rights.
At present, Etihad operates cargo flights between Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.
Baumgartner refused to be drawn on market rumour that Etihad planned to inaugurate services between Guangzhou and Abu Dhabi, saying the airline does not confirm details of its future routes. But he pointed out Etihad was interested in markets where there is growth.
"The Chinese market is tremendously important for us," he said, adding that burgeoning trade between China and the Middle East into Africa was one of the "biggest growth stories on the planet".
Baumgartner said Etihad, formed 10 years ago, was the world's fastest-growing airline, operating 72 Airbus and Boeing aircraft with another 90 aircraft on firm order including 10 double-deck Airbus A380s that will start to arrive next year, and 40 Boeing 787s.
The carrier has equity stakes in Virgin Australia, Air Berlin and Aer Lingus, in addition to Air Seychelles. All four of these airlines were profitable last year, Baumgartner said.
Etihad already operates flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, and has codeshare agreements with China Eastern Airlines and Hainan Airlines.
Baumgartner said the launch of the three-times-a-week Air Seychelles flights to Hong Kong meant the next chapter in the airline's growth path had started. "One doesn't have to be too much of a visionary to realise these frequencies will increase ultimately to daily," he added.
Cramer Ball, Air Seychelles chief executive, said "Hong Kong was the ideal hub for the region" since it drew passengers for the airline from mainland cities including Shenzhen and Guangzhou.