Year in review 2014: Etihad adds to codeshare collection as Emirates banks on the Airbus A380

Etihad Airways continued to snatch minority stakes in other airlines and made its flag-ship acquisition by taking up a 49 per cent stake in Alitalia.
Etihad is launching its four times a week service between Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong on June 15, 2015. Philippe Lopez / AFP
Etihad is launching its four times a week service between Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong on June 15, 2015. Philippe Lopez / AFP

The performance of Arabian Gulf airlines remained strong this year. Etihad Airways continued to buy up minority stakes in other airlines and yesterday it finalised its flag-ship acquisition of a 49 per cent stake in Alitalia.

Operations of the “new” Alitalia will begin in the New Year, Etihad said.

“The next step for the two airlines is to start slashing Alitalia’s waste and find where the two can benefit from synergies,” said Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.

He suggested that Alitalia could be wise to hedge its fuel needs, with prices having fallen so sharply.

Oil has shed more than 40 per cent of its value since peaking at about US$115 per barrel in June.

Etihad also awaits a trial regulatory approval for a 33 per cent stake in the Swiss carrier Etihad Regional (formerly known as Darwin Airline). Analysts believe Etihad’s investment will be approved.

“Etihad Regional will get the nod. Without Etihad’s intervention, Darwin Airline was on a path to nowhere fast,” said Mr Ahmad.

On the plane manufacturers front, Airbus was hit by a $16 billion order cancellation of 70 Airbus A350 planes from Emirates. Qatar Airways is the launch carrier of the same plane.

“It will be interesting to see how Qatar manages both the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. For the 787 it uses the smaller -8 variant but for the A350 will use the larger -900 and -1000 variants,” said Will Horton, a senior analyst at the Sydney-based Centre for Aviation.

Mr Ahmad said that demand for the A350 would remain robust, since airlines want long-haul twin-engine airplanes.

“The A350-900, like its rivals the 787 and 777, has a solid order book and will continue to grow as ageing A330s, A340s and early-vintage 777 models are retired,” he said.

However, the world’s biggest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, is a different story. Uncertainty surrounds the future of the superjumbo that plays a key role in Emirates’s expansion strategy.

Airbus’s finance director, Harald Wilhelm, this month aired the possibility of ending production of the flagship jet because new buyers were scarce.

Days later, Tim Clark, the president of Emirates, protested against the remarks – a natural reaction, given that Emirates is the world’s largest A380 operator, with 56 in its fleet and 84 on order.

“Emirates is concerned because it has so much invested in the jet as its flagship,” said Mr Ahmad. “If Airbus scraps the A380, then Emirates’s current fleet and the remaining A380 orders lose value, especially when there is no secondhand market for this airplane.”

selgazzar@thenational.ae

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Published: December 23, 2014 04:00 AM

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