Etihad Airways has pulled out of the aviation industry's biggest awards scheme in a row over the way airlines are rated.
The Abu Dhabi-based carrier said that its decision to withdraw was taken after it carried out a review of the criteria and measurement of the Skytrax Airline rating system. It did not elaborate further.
It represents a major turnaround for the airline, which only last year praised the awards scheme as “a global benchmark for airline excellence because they go straight to the source – the traveller”.
The surprise move has triggered a debate in the industry over the value of such awards, whether they can be said to be independent and how much travellers care about them.
“As airlines have to pay to be audited by Skytrax, the industry does not consider Skytrax to be a neutral and unbiased authority on airline quality,” said Will Horton, a senior analyst at Sydney-based Centre for Aviation (Capa). “The more airlines pay Skytrax for audits, the bigger incentive Skytrax has to favour them.”
But in a statement to The National, Skytrax stressed its impartiality and said there was no obligation for a carrier to participate in the Airline Quality Audit.
“We adhere to strict standards of impartiality and independence, and to require audit participation would be against our principles of conduct,” Skytrax said. “The World Airline Awards referred to in [the Etihad] statement are decided by air travellers, so we don’t have control as to which airlines are nominated in the final results.
“We would include Etihad Airways results if they are named winner of any award categories at Farnborough International Airshow on July 15, as we do for more than 215 airlines covered in this passenger survey.”
Skytrax rates and reviews 681 airlines and 725 airports, according to its website. It awarded Emirates the world's best airline last year. Meanwhile, Qatar Airways was ranked second and Singapore Airlines came third. Etihad ranked number seven, according to the UK-based consultancy.
Skytrax also ranks airlines in numerous ways such as best cabin, best lounge and best seat.
“It should be noted that Skytrax hasn’t awarded Emirates a five-star rating, yet the airline has an amazing array of cabin products compared to many in the industry,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.
“In the same way, Etihad’s recent reveal of its first class and Residence cabins speak volumes – you don’t need to have an unofficial body question or judge your value when it’s evident that Etihad researched and developed them on the back of customer demand and customer input.”
Some analysts say that the industry is missing an objective recognised body that uses uniform assessments in awarding ratings to airlines.
Etihad said yesterday it “subscribes to monthly industry research and undertakes comprehensive monthly surveys to monitor customer satisfaction, using the insights to continually improve its products and services.”
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