The boss of Etihad Airways has called for reasoned debate based upon facts over open skies, in the face of opposition to Gulf carriers by US airlines.
James Hogan, president and chief executive of the UAE carrier, made his first public comments since three US airlines launched a campaign against Etihad and others from the region.
Speaking at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 14th annual aviation summit in Washington, he warned against action which would restrict competitive choice for millions of US and international air travellers in markets which the US airlines have chosen not to serve.
As a national airline owned by its government, Etihad Airways is no different than scores of airlines around the world, Hogan stressed.
The airline has always made clear it has received equity investment and shareholder loans, which have been supplemented by $10.5 billion in loans from international financial institutions.
“Our shareholder believes in our business plan,” said Hogan. “They have increased their commitment as we have developed - they have invested in our success.
“They’ve seen the success we are delivering, both as a business in our own right and as a catalyst for other business, trade and tourism, in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. We are now not just an airline but a successful aviation group, incorporating handling, maintenance and distribution capabilities.
“Our shareholder, like any rational shareholder in the world, has made that commitment to us because it expects a return, and as it sees greater success from our business, it sees the opportunity for even greater returns in the future.”
Hogan outlined the economic contribution his airline delivers to the US, directly through daily flights between Abu Dhabi and six US destinations and through its extensive supply chain partners throughout the country.
“We regard ourselves as a friend of the United States,” he said. “Certainly, the bonds between the UAE and the USA are incredibly strong, and we believe Etihad Airways has always reflected that in our business operations.
“We are major customers of Boeing, of GE, of Sabre, and of many other American businesses. We work with US financial institutions, with US tourist boards, with US airports. Our commitment to the US economy supports more than 200,000 jobs.”
He used the example of the airline’s first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight into the US, which started on Sunday from Abu Dhabi to Washington. The aircraft is the second of 71 Dreamliners on order from Boeing, part of total orders of almost 120 aircraft worth more than $36 billion with the manufacturer.
Etihad Airways delivered 180,000 travellers onto the networks of US airlines in 2014, and 50,000 in the first two months of 2015, Hogan added.
He added that open skies “is ultimately all about consumer choice”.
“Customers choose to fly Etihad Airways because we offer a great product, with outstanding service, on the routes they want to fly, at prices that are competitive within those markets,” said Hogan.
“They choose us against many different competitors, depending upon which market we are in. But quite honestly, it is very rare that US carriers offer those alternatives.
“No US carrier flies into Abu Dhabi. There are very few US carriers operating to where we do in the Indian sub-continent, in southeast Asia, or in the wider Middle East.
“We make no apologies for offering new competitive choice for air travellers. We hope to continue to do so around the world.”
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