The United Arab Emirates' 30-month-old national carrier Etihad Airways bracing up to give a tough fight to other carriers from the region for marketshare.
In this fight for marketshare, India is an important battleground for Etihad as it plans to increase its flights to the country by about 300 per cent.
Etihad is in talks with Indian government to fly to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.
At present, it flies daily to Mumbai and twice a week to Delhi. Given the huge market of over 20 lakh expatriates in UAE, the airline would like to fly from Bangalore and Chennai as well.
"We want to reach all corners of South India to link them directly with Abu Dhabi and other destinations," said Dougie Douglas, area manager, Northern India & Nepal, Etihad.
Having covered 30 destinations across the world in the last 30 months, Etihad Airways plans to cover 37 destinations by the end of 2006 and 70 by 2010. The national airline of the UAE is on an expansion drive. It has already got nine of the 29 aircraft it ordered for $8 billion.
"We are continuing to expand. In the first year, we carried 3,00,000 passengers, which went up to 10 lakh the next year. We will reach 30 lakh passengers this year," said Geert W Boven, acting chief executive officer of the airline.
Etihad officials have a tough task at hand though. Boven expects to break even by 2009.
(The correspondent's visit to Abu Dhabi was sponsored by Etihad Airways)