Etihad third quarter passenger demand flying high

Buoyed by heavy demand to Australia and Asia, Etihad Airways carried 1.8 million passengers in the third quarter.

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Etihad Airways said yesterday it carried 1.8 million passengers in the third quarter, a robust 38.4 per cent increase over the 1.3 million it handled in the same period last year. The Abu Dhabi airline said business was buoyed by heavy demand for Asian and Australian flights. Bucking a global downturn in the industry, Etihad hit key targets for the percentage of seats filled between July and last month while consolidating its operations on new routes to China, India and Belarus. Its performance continued an impressive run the airline has enjoyed throughout the year, bringing to 4.4 million the number of passengers it carried in the first nine months across its 48 destinations, a 35 per cent jump from 3.3 million in the first nine months of last year. James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad, said the numbers showed the airline would reach its target of six million passengers this year, capping its swift rise since launching in late 2003 to an ultra-long haul specialist with more than 100 wide-bodied aircraft on order today. "Despite current market conditions and against an industry backdrop that remains extremely challenging, the performance of our airline during the first nine months of this year was impressive," Mr Hogan said. "The significant investment we have put into our product and service this year is paying rich dividends and we remain well on track to achieve our target." The proportion of seats filled jumped to 75 per cent from January through to last month, a rise of seven percentage points over last year. This has given Etihad a crucial cushion from the 65 per cent "break-even" level that analysts say airlines generally face on most routes. Etihad said passengers purchased more of its business-class seats than ever before, which contribute a disproportionate amount of an airline's revenues. Its best performing routes were Toronto, with 85 per cent of business cabins full, followed by New York and London. Etihad said its flights to the Australasia region were even stronger. Economy-class seats to Manila averaged 94 per cent occupancy. The Jakarta route was at 90 per cent, and Sydney and Bangkok also performed better than average. New routes this year include Beijing, the Indian cities of Calicut and Madras, and the Belarussian capital Minsk. The carrier's international destinations will reach 50 by the end of the year, with services starting soon to Moscow and Almaty, in Kazakhstan. Etihad will complement its Australia service with new flights to Melbourne early next year and will launch flights to Lagos in Nigeria.