Etihad is 7 years old, and ready to fly higher

Etihad Airways will celebrate its seventh anniversary today after announcing a higher passenger load factor and Dh8.4 billion in revenue for last year.

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ABU DHABI // Etihad Airways will celebrate its seventh anniversary today after announcing a higher passenger load factor and Dh8.4 billion in revenue for last year.

James Hogan, Etihad's chief executive, said that the airline industry was constantly faced with issues which he regarded as opportunities.

"When we reflect on the last seven years, Etihad is regarded as a leading brand in the industry," he said. "That's why we continue to be innovative and to progress."

Etihad plans to continue developing its networks in Asia, the Middle East, India and the US. Hareb Mubarak al Muhairy, its vice president of sales in the UAE, said that the company has come a long way from its fleet of 24 planes in 2006 to its current fleet of 57.

The airline, which makes 1,000 flights a week and serves 66 destinations in 43 countries, carried more passengers this year than last, posting a three per cent seat factor gain, he said.

"Etihad had a guaranteed revenue of Dh8.4 billion in 2009 and its contribution to Abu Dhabi's economy was Dh1.36bn," Mr al Muhairy said.

The airline has stopped accepting cargo shipments from Yemen and Somalia amid security concerns heightened by last weekend's incidents in Dubai and the UK.

Mr Hogan stressed that the airline was working very closely with authorities to ensure that the highest security awareness measures are being maintained and insisted that the industry was working as a whole to deal with the situation.

"One of my first priorities is running a safe airline," he said. "We work very closely with the authorities, airport, police, as well as other agencies to ensure that we are vigilant - and that never stops."

US-bound parcels containing explosives were sent by air from Yemen and intercepted in Dubai and Britain last week. One of the packages was found on a UPS cargo plane at East Midlands Airport in the UK, while the other was discovered in a computer printer cartridge at a FedEx Corp facility in Dubai.

Mr Hogan maintained that there were likely to be certain times during the year when there was heightened risks. He also addressed the concept of tightening security in the global cargo shipping business, which handles about 26 million tonnes of material per year, saying his airline would take whatever steps were necessary to inspect its share properly.

"We are working very closely with the cargo facilities," he said. "If we need to break down pallets we will, but we will not leave anything to risk."

The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) stated yesterday that the Emirates will take stricter security measures to monitor parcels that arrive in the country.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, the GCAA director general, said that the UAE reserved the right to take any additional measures it deemed necessary to prevent a threat to its civil aviation security.

With regard to current challenges in the global aviation industry, Mr Hogan referred to recent concerns voiced by European airlines related to export credits as a "European domestic issue".

"Recently the European airlines challenged Gulf carriers about export credits," he said. "We believe that is not an issue for the Gulf carriers but an issue for the European government. If their governments wish to change their rules, so be it.

"I think it is a bit of a smokescreen by some of the European carriers to say that Gulf carriers get preferred status, because we do not. What concerns me more is that this may pose an issue for our expansion and it is not good for the consumer to block competition."

Despite all of the complications, Mr Hogan believes that challenge and competition are part of the business.

"It's part of running an airline," he said. "We have to understand challenges quickly, adapt and move forward. That's what we do."