Fast-growing Etihad Airways profit rises to $73M as airline accuses West of protectionism

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates’ fast-growing national carrier, said Thursday its profit rose by more than half to $73 million last year but warned that “aggressive protectionist sentiment” in the West threatens its future prospects.

The government-backed airline, which has bought up stakes in several foreign carriers that help drive traffic through its Abu Dhabi hub, said its earnings rose 52 per cent over the $48 million its stand-alone airline business earned the previous year. It was the airline’s fourth year of profitability.

Etihad and rivals Qatar Airways and Dubai-based Emirates are rapidly expanding, funneling mainly long-haul passengers and cargo through their growing Gulf hubs. U.S. airlines have criticized the carriers, saying they are distorting the market by benefiting from unfair state subsidies — a charge the Gulf airlines deny.

President and CEO James Hogan cited that opposition as an “unprecedented” challenge.

“Of particular concern has been the rise in aggressive protectionist sentiment in Europe and the U.S.,” he said. “These attempts to limit competition are detrimental to consumer choice. They threaten to damage the significant progress that our airline has made in offering improved travel connections, product and service standards and value for money.”

Etihad’s revenue for the year increased to $7.6 billion from $6 billion in 2013.

That increase was helped by a 22-per cent jump in passenger numbers to 14.8 million as the airline continued to add capacity with the addition of new planes.

The carrier also grew its route network in 2014, launching services to 10 new destinations, including tourist hotspots like Rome and Phuket, Thailand, as well as Los Angeles, Dallas and San Francisco.

Etihad credited its sales growth in part on its strategy of partnering with other carriers through minority equity stakes and codeshares outside of longer-standing traditional airline alliances. Those partnerships contributed $1.1 billion in revenues in 2014, the airline said.

Etihad owns stakes in Air Berlin, Air Seychelles, Ireland’s Aer Lingus, India’s Jet Airways, Virgin Australia and Swiss regional carrier Darwin Airline. In 2014, it won final approval for a 49-per cent investment in Serbia’s national carrier, Air Serbia, and completed a deal for a similarly large stake in Italy’s Alitalia.


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