Rapid expansion has been the core story for several Middle Eastern airlines, and Etihad Airways is no exception when it comes to growing and competing in a tough market.
The Abu Dhabi based carrier is a relative newcomer to the airline industry by entering the market in 2004, but it plans to have over 60 aircraft within the next two years.
Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan tells CNBC.com why the young airline’s geographic location, and modern approach is appealing to travelers.
Q. You have been working in the airline and travel industry for the last 30 years. What's the biggest change you have seen during your career?
The impact of new technology and the enormous benefits to consumers of the change — faster, more fuel-efficient aircraft that can fly further with fewer stops; and IT systems and digital communication platforms that have completely revolutionized the buying and selling process.
Q. During your tenure at Etihad Airways, the number of passengers carried by the airline have almost tripled. Can that growth continue, and if so, how?
Absolutely, it can. As our fleet size grows beyond 60 aircraft in the coming 12 to 24 months, we will be well placed to grow capacity on our existing routes as well as look for opportunities to add new destinations to our network. Also, the strong economic and population growth of Abu Dhabi and the GCC, and the growing attraction of our hub as a leisure destination, will foster growth. We also grow through our partnerships — for example, our alliance with Virgin Australia opened up an additional 45 destinations for our customers.
Q. Why do you think so many airline passengers are choosing to fly the carriers in the gulf such as Etihad, Qatar and Emirates?
There are a couple of key factors. First, the unique geographic position of Abu Dhabi and other places in the region as a convenient mid-point between Europe and Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Australia. Airline hubs in these locations deliver major benefits to travelers in terms of time and convenience, and to airlines in terms of efficiency and competitive advantage. On top of that, there's a compelling customer proposition — young airlines with modern, reliable, new planes and a fresh approach to customer service that's been on the decline in the global aviation industry in recent years.
Q. What is the best thing for you about long distance flying?
As an airline man, I enjoy seeing how all the elements of product and service come together for the customer — at the airport and onboard. It's the same for me whether I'm flying with Etihad or another airline.
Q. What is it that you don't like about long distance flying?
I always enjoy the journey but, with aviation being such a fast moving industry, I can't wait to get off the aircraft and get back in touch with the business again.