Etihad is ‘comfortable’ over second review of its stake in Swiss-based Darwin



Etihad Airways said yesterday that it was “comfortable” with a second review by Switzerland’s federal office of civil aviation of its acquisition of a 33.3 per cent stake of the Swiss-based airline Darwin.

The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (Foca) said last week that the deal currently gives effective control to Etihad over Darwin Airline, which was rebranded to Etihad Regional in January.

Foca wants to ensure that the deal complies with its rules which stipulate that the majority of the airline’s shares should be owned by Swiss or EU citizens. The same applies to the question of control over the airline.

Arabian Gulf carriers are facing a backlash from some European rivals who see them as encroaching on their domestic markets, helped by what they perceive to be state aid.

“We are comfortable with Foca’s review and understand and support the need for there to be absolute clarity that Etihad Airways does not, cannot and will not exercise control over Darwin Airline,” said James Hogan, the president and chief executive of Etihad. “While our initial agreement has required amendment, we are seeking, as any minority investor would, protection for our investment. This is about protection, not control.”

He added that the carrier would continue to be majority owned by Swiss shareholders and operated by Swiss management.

Etihad said that it was advised by Foca in June to make changes to the Darwin Airline agreement to attain regulatory approval. The airline added that it had been working with Foca to amend the deal and meet the regulations.

Foca gave Etihad until September 30 to make the necessary amendments before the deal becomes subject to a second review.

Etihad said that 66.7 per cent of the airline would be retained by Swiss investors and that no Swiss interests would be compromised.

The latest review by Foca comes months after the EU Commission started an investigation into the level of control arising from Etihad’s 29.2 per cent stake in Air Berlin.

Etihad owns minority stakes in other European carriers including: Aer Lingus, Air Serbia and Alitalia, in which it bought a 49 per cent stake earlier this month.

Etihad has also come under great scrutiny from European rivals over its equity investments in the continent’s carriers. Some European rivals, such as Germany’s Lufthansa, have said that Etihad receives state funds, a claim Etihad has denied.

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