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Etihad takes first-class route to Indian skies

May 13, 2014 12:29 IST

Etihad takes first-class route to Indian skies

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Aneesh Phadnis in Mumbai

While Etihad Airways may have only recently cleared the last hurdle to its stake acquisition in Jet Airways, it has already stepped up its India presence.

Its aggressive sales pitch includes a new ad campaign around its first-class product, sponsorship of an IPL team and the launch of Boeing 787 flights to Mumbai by the end of 2014 or early-2015.

Securities and Exchange Board of India has cleared the deal with Jet by clarifying that it does not need to make an open offer to Jet’s shareholders.

Etihad has recently launched three-room first-class cabins (first by any airline) and suites on the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787.

The A380 aircraft will fly to London and Boeing 787 to Washington DC, Dusseldorf and Mumbai.

Etihad’s premium products are crucial to the Abu Dhabi-based airline’s global ambitions, including a challenge to rival Emirates.

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Image: A flight attendant of Etihad Airways holds a model of the Airbus A350 during the Dubai Airshow.
Photographs: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

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Media reports have billed Etihad’s premium push as a ‘luxury arms race’ between the two West Asian airlines. Emirates already offers first-class suites, on-board shower and lounge on its A380 planes.

Currently, Etihad flies wide-body aircraft only on the Mumbai and Delhi routes.

On the Mumbai route, Etihad flies the Airbus A340, which has 12 first-class seats -- Etihad’s only such route to India.

A travel agent says that last December, Etihad had launched a three-day sale, offering upto 50 per cent off on business-class fares on all of its routes.

“It grabbed a lot of business from Emirates and Qatar with that sale,” he says.

Etihad is even wooing small and medium enterprises with mileage points and upgrades.

Typically, corporate deals are in the form of discounts on fares for committing business, larger than that provided by SMEs, to the tune of Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) or more.

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Image: The Etihad Airways headquarters is pictured in Abu Dhabi.
Photographs: Ben Job/Reuters

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Last year, the civil aviation ministry increased the seat entitlement from Abu Dhabi to India from 13,000 to over 50,000 over next three years, and Etihad is making the most of it.

Last December, the airline announced doubling of flights to 14 weekly flights between Abu Dhabi and Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kochi, Chennai and Hyderabad.

Mumbai and Delhi already have two daily flights and other cities will have more  by October, 2014.

Not to be outdone, Emirates plans to deploy an A380 for one of its daily services between Dubai and Mumbai, from July.

In addition, Emirates also plans to upgrade existing aircraft to those with larger capacity, such as the Boeing 777, to Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai from June 1.

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Image: Etihad Airways aircraft are seen at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Photographs: Ben Job/Reuters

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Emirates is now looking to launch private bedrooms on its A380 fleet.

“It’s all about privacy.

“Our new bedroom concept will take it to the next level,” Emirates President Tim Clark has said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Emirates enjoys a dominant position in the Indian market and is also the largest foreign airline flying to India, with 185 weekly flights.

Brand expert Alok Nanda, MD, Alok Nanda & Company says, “It is a no-brainer for Etihad to step up promotions in India -- the market for travelling abroad is exploding, and West Asia is high on the agenda of many first-time travellers.

“The acquisition of Jet further increases the need to promote Etihad, as most Indians are unaware or have a hazy image of the airline.

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Image: Emirates Airlines aircraft are seen near concourse A at the Emirates Terminal at Dubai International Airport.
Photographs: Jumana El Heloueh/Reuters
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“It is a late-comer, especially as Emirates is already much loved by Indian travellers. Even Qatar Airways is better known.

“Hence, the need to catch up by increasing communication spends.”

John Nair, head, business travel, Cox & Kings, says, “I believe Gulf carriers have always been aggressive and with the induction of new aircraft in their fleet, it is important that they target the well-heeled from India.

“Their marketing strategy is to occupy mindspace among the new generation of travellers who lap up such products.”

Of late, Etihad has been advertising heavily in print and on television, focusing on its premium offerings and network with the tag-line -- ‘The world is our home, you are our guest’.

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Image: Of late, Etihad has been advertising heavily in print and on television, focusing on its premium offerings and network with the tag-line -- 'The world is our home, you are our guest'.
Photographs: Reuters
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Nanda says the strategy is clearly to establish the scale of its premiumness as its competition is not restricted to a region, but include most global players.

He says, “Emirates, particularly, has been able to go beyond its country of origin to project itself as a global airline. Etihad still has a long way to go.”

Two years ago, Emirates had come up with a new campaign -- ‘Hello Tomorrow’, which projected Emirates less as a carrier and more as a lifestyle brand.

Lure of sports

Sports sponsorships, too, have scored a goal with all three West Asian airlines. Etihad and its Indian partner Jet Airways have signed a contract with the IPL team, Mumbai Indians.

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Image: Etihad has plans to develop a strong network in and out of India.
Photographs: Reuters

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“As India continues to play an important part in the growth of Etihad Airways, this new sponsorship deal provides an excellent opportunity for us to reinforce our global brand, cement our partnership with Jet Airways and forge close and long-lasting relationships with the Indian travelling public, many of whom we know are huge cricket fans.

 “Sport sponsorships form a major part of Etihad’s international marketing strategy,” Etihad CEO James Hogan has said in a statement last month.

“Etihad and other Gulf carriers have been closely associated with globally popular sports like soccer, Formula 1 racing and rugby.

“Cricket is a religion in India and an obvious choice.

“The IPL has several corporate groups from aviation such as GMR, the Wadias (Go Air), Sun TV (Spice Jet) as franchise owners.

“Etihad’s involvement with Mumbai Indians will help it build a greater connect with the Indian audience,” says Amber Dubey, partner and India-head of Aerospace and Defense at global consultancy KPMG.

Etihad Airways and Emirates have not replied to emails that had sought their participation.


Image: An Etihad flight attendant helps a visitor sit in a mock cabin lounge seat.
Photographs: Reuters

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