Growing resistance by “protectionist competitors” to the growth of Etihad Airways in Europe could have wide-ranging implications, the boss of the Gulf carrier has warned.
The message came after the UAE airline’s president and chief executive James Hogan met the European Commission transport commissioner.
He highlighted to Violeta Bulc the benefits the airline delivers to European consumers, outlining the multi-billion euro contribution it makes to European economies, while reinforcing the risks associated with rising protectionist sentiment.
“Etihad Airways is committed to Europe. But growing resistance to us from a handful of protectionist competitors could have unintended consequences well beyond limiting our development,” Hogan said.
“If our growth is curtailed or our investments in airlines are compromised, the real damage will be to Europe in lost jobs, lost flight connectivity, lost investment in local and national economies and lost consumer choice.”
Etihad Airways has an expanding network of shareholdings in carriers across Europe, including Alitalia, Air Berlin, Aer Lingus and Air Serbia. It is in the process of formalising an equity investment in Swiss-based Etihad Regional, operated by Darwin Airline.
But it and other Middle East airlines faces growing opposition from established airlines on both sides of the Atlantic which claim unfair encroachment into their markets.
Hogan described aviation as a global industry, not a regional business, and that any moves to impede foreign carrier access and limit competition would not just damage Etihad Airways and its European partners, but would also reverberate throughout the air transport industry, and potentially undermine international confidence in Europe’s commitment to global trade and investment.
He said research conducted by Oxford Economics had verified that Etihad Airways’ core operations in the European Union last year contributed a total of $1 billion to the combined GDP of the 28 EU members and supported more than 11,000 jobs. Additionally, the airline’s 2014 capital spending on aircraft and other aviation equipment contributed $2.6 billion to the region’s GDP, supporting more than 28,100 jobs.
“Etihad Airways is not just another foreign airline flying to Europe to poach local traffic,” Hogan said.
“We are a sophisticated partner to and investor in Europe for long-term mutual benefit, contributing billions of euros every year to EU and non-EU economies, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and both maintaining and expanding choice for air travellers to and from Europe.
“Through our own flights, our 21 European codeshare partnerships and our minority investments in five European airlines, we are adding value to Europe in a way that no other foreign airline is.
“In 2014 alone we carried 3.3 million passengers to and from EU economies, connecting 618,000 travellers onto flights by our EU codeshare partners, and accommodating 368,000 of their passengers on our flights.
“We also operate one-stop services between Europe and 19 destinations not served by any EU carriers. And we provide codeshare access to many of these markets for European airlines, including connections to Australia for 11 carriers, five of which ceased operating their own services on these routes prior to us entering the market.”
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