Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways lands in Rome with bigger target in sights

Etihad is awaiting regulatory approval for its purchase of a stake of up to 49 per cent in Alitalia after the Italian airline said last month that its board of directors had given its backing to a deal.

The Colosseum is among the many sights in Rome. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg News
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rome // Etihad Airways landed its first flight in Rome yesterday morning, but its plans for Italy include a capital infusion of another sort.

The Abu Dhabi airline used an Airbus A330 for the six-and-a-half hour flight. Etihad flight EY83 touched down at 7.10am Rome time under sunny skies, and a ribbon-cutting celebration took place at the airport.

From Etihad, Khaled Ghaith Al Mehairbi, senior vice president of governmental and aero-political affairs, and Hassan Al Hammadi, senior vice president of executive affairs, were present.

Giorgio Starace, the Italian ambassador to the UAE, also attended.

Meanwhile, Etihad is awaiting regulatory approval for its purchase of a stake of up to 49 per cent in the Italian flagship carrier Alitalia. Last month, Alitalia said that its board of directors had given its backing to a deal, which is expected to be completed this month.

Will Horton, a senior analyst at the Sydney-based Centre for Aviation, said the Rome route has good long-term prospects for Etihad.

“Etihad entered Italy later than Emirates and Qatar and has had a smaller presence, so organic growth is good for it. Traffic to/from Rome should be good for Etihad considering how little Alitalia flies east of Europe, but with time there are notable opportunities for traffic beyond Rome as Alitalia comes into focus and Etihad Regional amasses scale,” he said via email.

Etihad Regional, a Swiss carrier formerly known as Darwin Airline, is one of Etihad’s seven equity alliance partners.

At Alitalia, Etihad is demanding downsizing measures and thousands of job cuts at the loss-making airline in exchange for injecting capital – just as it did when it took stakes in Air Serbia and Air Seychelles.

Etihad has gained a reputation for turning around struggling airlines in which it invests, however Alitalia could become its biggest challenge. Mr Hogan previously declined to say exactly how many jobs would be lost at Alitalia, but the Italian airline’s chief executive, Gabriele Del Torchio, is reported to have put the figure at 2,200 of the carrier’s 14,000 staff.

Three of Alitalia's labour unions had been planning a strike for this coming Sunday. However, the Anpac pilots' union told The National that the strike "was put off after successful talks with the government".

Other conditions that Etihad is expected to exert in order to turn Alitalia’s performance around include cutting loss-making routes, negotiating new employment contracts with highly paid staff and reducing airport costs.

According to reports quoting the Italian transport minister, Maurizio Lupi, under the terms of the potential deal Etihad is likely to invest up to €1.25 billion (Dh6.22bn) in Alitalia over four years. Of that, €560 million would be spent on Alitalia shares, while the remaining €690m would be spent on upgrading its airplanes, interiors and training staff.

Etihad also began service yesterday to the western Australian city of Perth.


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