Twenty years of Etihad: The UAE's unifying national airline

The name of the airline is derived from the Arabic word for unity

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Etihad Airways turns 20 this month.

The national airline of the UAE was established in July 2003 following a royal decree issued by the late President, Sheikh Khalifa.

Founded by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saif, the name of the airline is derived from the Arabic word for unity, representing the union of the country’s seven emirates.

Prior to the establishment of Etihad, Abu Dhabi was one of the owners of Gulf Air, along with Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. The emirate withdrew from the airline in 2005 to focus on Etihad Airways.

The airline began offering services on November 5, 2003, with a ceremonial flight to Al Ain. A week later, it officially began commercial operations with flights to Beirut.

In 2011, Etihad recorded its first full-year profit, after which it began investing in other airlines, buying stakes in Jet Airways, Virgin Australia, as well as major shares in Air Serbia.

It has also previously owned stakes in Air Berlin and Air Seychelles.

By 2018, Etihad was flying to more than 100 destinations around the world.

It also had a 115-strong fleet, including 33 Airbus A320s, 24 Boeing 777 sand 10 Airbus A380 planes.

That same year, the Etihad Aviation Group, which comprises Etihad Airways Engineering, Etihad Airport Services, Hala Group and Airline Equity Partners, revealed its workforce was composed of about 25,000 people of 154 nationalities.

The aviation group recorded 18.6 million passengers in 2017 and received several prestigious awards, including the Skytrax Award for World’s Best First-Class at the 2017 Paris Air Show.

Like the majority of aviation companies around the world, Etihad was greatly affected by the pandemic. The company laid off a third of its workforce and reported a $1.7 billion loss in 2020.

The group has been making a comeback since then, particularly in its air freight division.

Etihad ranked third on a list of this year’s top global airlines compiled by Airline Ratings, an aviation safety and product-rating website.

Updated: July 07, 2023, 6:01 PM