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Etihad Airways reports 19 percent jump in Q3 sales

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Gulf carrier Etihad Airways said Sunday a jump in passenger numbers flying aboard its fast-growing fleet drove third-quarter sales 19 percent higher to $1.3 billion.

Like regional rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways, the airline is rapidly expanding its network, increasing the amount of cash it takes in. Etihad is also pursuing a strategy of teaming up with other airlines through codeshare deals and equity stakes, and it says those tie-ups are significantly boosting sales.

"Partnerships have been a distinct strategy ... to give the network reach," airline president and CEO James Hogan said in a phone interview. "Certainly our equity partnerships have worked for us."

Passenger numbers rose 23 percent in the quarter, compared to the same period a year ago, when Etihad posted sales of $1.1 billion. Etihad also says it is flying fuller planes, even as it increases to 67 the number of aircraft in its fleet.

Government-owned Etihad is based in the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi. The carrier recently began flying to Lagos, Nigeria, and plans to add destinations including Washington and Sao Paulo next year.

Etihad began buying pieces of foreign airlines in December, when it took a stake of nearly 30 percent in Air Berlin. It followed that deal up with purchases of chunks of Air Seychelles, the island country's national carrier, Ireland's Aer Lingus and Virgin Australia.

Business from those airlines and from a growing list of codeshare partners accounted for $182 million of Etihad's sales, the airline said. Codeshare agreements let airlines to sell tickets on partner carriers' networks, allowing them to extend their reach.

Hogan said Etihad remains open to further deal-making.

"If there are other equity partnerships that make sense, we'll look at it very seriously. But it's not a collection of brands," he said.

Etihad did not disclose how much quarterly profit it made, but Hogan said he expects the company is on track to post its second straight annual profit this year. He declined to predict whether the earnings would top last year's $14 million profit.