Etihad reports record passenger numbers

Etihad Airways reports a 41 per cent rise in passengers thanks to strong ticket sales from the US and Canada.

As the busy summer season approaches Etihad said it was on track to achieve its goal of flying six million passengers in 2008.
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Abu Dhabi // Strong ticket sales from the US and Canada helped Etihad Airways to report record results in the first half of the year, with passenger numbers rising 41 per cent over the year-earlier period. On the eve of an order for up to 100 new aircraft it was expected to make later this month, Etihad said it carried 2.8 million passengers between January and June. During the same period last year, it carried two million passengers and since then had introduced new planes and destinations in Europe, India and Asia. Despite a slowdown in the US economy over the past 12 months, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier said flights to New York's JFK airport and to Toronto experienced strong demand. By contrast, more than two dozen airlines had shut down this year, primarily in the US, victims of record oil prices. The healthy bookings reflect Abu Dhabi's location as a stopover hub for flights between the Indian subcontinent and North America, home to millions of South Asian expatriates. Etihad would increase its Toronto flights from four times a week under the current bilateral agreement to daily "in a heartbeat", said Iain Burns, the vice president of corporate communications at Etihad. "We pour over figures with a microscope for any softening of demand for our key routes. In North America and Western Europe, particularly business traffic, we're seeing no softening of demand whatsoever," Mr Burns said. Etihad also planned to partner with a US carrier to further tap into the large market of American travellers, Mr Burns said. "All of the majors have enormous hub and spoke operations that we could link with." Etihad is considering new destinations in the US, where its Gulf-based rivals such as Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline have a presence or soon will. These include Houston, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The airline has also seen standout results for its long-haul flights to Bangkok and London Heathrow. As the busy summer season approached, Etihad said it was on track to achieve its goal of flying six million passengers in 2008, or an average of 16,500 passengers a day. The feat would cap five years of growth since its launch in 2003 and its first full year results in 2004, when it carried 340,000 passengers. The numbers also lend support to Etihad's recent decision to add several Airbus A320s, narrow-bodied aircraft, to its fleet. This is in contrast to Emirates, which operates an all wide-bodied fleet. The new additions have helped the airline to beef up its intra-regional service and to deliver more passengers to its lucrative trunk routes to Asia, North America and Europe. In its half-yearly results, Etihad said the seat factor throughout its network, or proportion of seats filled, was 73 per cent, up from 64 per cent in the previous corresponding period. Seat factor is a key measure of profitability, and Etihad has a commercial mandate to break even by 2010. In the second half of the year, Etihad said it would add five new destinations, bringing its network of routes to 50.