Airline passengers from Manchester, Abu Dhabi's unofficial sister city, will find it easier to get to the UAE capital after Etihad Airways said it would boost capacity by as much as 60 per cent. Etihad, the shirt sponsor for Manchester City Football Club, will offer 2,100 additional weekly seats beginning in June by using bigger aircraft, it said yesterday.
It is switching from the Airbus A330-200s it uses on the seven-flights-a-week route to the larger Boeing 777-300s. Each has been fitted with economy and business-class cabins. Abu Dhabi's ties with the northern English city blossomed in 2008 when its English Premier League team was bought by Abu Dhabi United Group, led by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
Etihad's three-year shirt sponsorship of the team followed in May last year. "Our services to Manchester have been performing very strongly," said Peter Baumgartner, the chief commercial officer at Etihad. "Load factors are close to 80 per cent in 2009. The business and investment ties between Manchester and Abu Dhabi have never been stronger and the introduction of the B777 furthers our commitment to this important route."
Manchester is an important destination for Gulf airlines such as Etihad, Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways. The airlines offer more direct connections from such large secondary cities in Europe for travel to the Middle East and Asia, and allow travellers the option to avoid busy European gateways such as Heathrow. In a sign of the importance of Manchester's business travellers, Emirates last summer became the first non-UK airline to open a dedicated lounge at Manchester Airport with an 800-square-metre facility in Terminal 1. Etihad, meanwhile, said its main business to Manchester came from linking the city with Sydney, Melbourne, Bangkok, Cape Town and Islamabad via Abu Dhabi.
The airline also said yesterday it was revising its daily schedule from Abu Dhabi to Dhaka in Bangladesh to better serve business travellers going onwards to Cairo, Manchester, London, Frankfurt, New York, Chicago and Toronto. Meanwhile, the expansion plans of Qatar Airways will be facilitated through a new financing company called Qatar Aviation Leasing, media reports said yesterday. The new company has launched syndication of a US$650 million (Dh2.38 billion) loan with Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered Bank, banking sources told Reuters. And in Manama, Gulf Air yesterday unveiled its new business-class cabins featuring lie-flat seats.