Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways aims to triple the number of passengers it carriers to 30 million and nearly double its fleet to 150 planes by the end of the decade, the airline’s chief told Reuters in an interview in New Delhi on Thursday.
Etihad’s plans come amid a shift in its strategy to focus on medium to long-haul destinations, moving away from operating ultra long-haul flights where competition is intense and profitability challenging, CEO Antonoaldo Neves said.
“Etihad has India as a priority,” Neves said, adding that the country is among its top three markets. He declined to name the other two.
The idea is to connect places like China, Southeast Asia, India and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries to Europe and the East Coast of the United States, Neves said.
Air travel in India is surging with domestic passenger numbers reaching pre-COVID levels and international traffic gathering pace as the country’s economy grows.
Etihad, which flies to places like Delhi and Mumbai, has identified six other Indian cities it does not serve but wants to launch flights to, he said.
Last October, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund ADQ took full control of the airline, appointing Neves who had previously led a turnaround at Portugal’s TAP.
“Our mandate is very clear. We don’t fly to places where we don’t make money,” he said.
The deeper push into India also comes as Tata Group-owned Air India is mapping out an aggressive expansion with non-stop flights to Europe and the U.S., and budget carrier IndiGo (INGL.NS) is growing its international network through its codeshare deal with Turkish Airlines.
Neves said the competition did not worry him and there is space for everyone in the world’s fastest-growing aviation market.
However, Etihad has about 10,000 seats a week of unutilised flying rights between India and Abu Dhabi, he said, which puts it in a better position compared with rivals that are clamouring for more access amid government pushback to open its skies further.