BERLIN, July 3 Abu Dhabi's state-owned airline
Etihad Airways, currently under scrutiny by the European Union
because of its numerous stakes in EU airlines, said the bloc had
to accept outside investment in its carriers in order to sustain
Etihad recently agreed to buy a 49 percent stake in ailing
Italian airline Alitalia as part of its strategy of
growth via minority stakes in airlines across the world which
has also seen it take stakes in Air Berlin, Air Serbia
and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
"Consolidation of airlines is critical to sustainable air
services," Etihad Chief Executive James Hogan said in a
statement on Thursday. "External investment is not a threat. It
is an opportunity to strengthen airlines, and to support
employment and economic growth."
He said that without the financial investment it has made in
European airlines, thousands of jobs could have been lost and
"There are strong economic and social benefits from stable
and connected airlines," Hogan said. "Etihad Airways wants to
engage with Europe."
The European Union is looking into whether Etihad exercises
more control than allowed under the region's rules for airlines
with a European operating licence, and is scrutinising in
particular its 29 percent stake in Air Berlin.
Major European airline Lufthansa has been a vocal
critic of Etihad and its rivals Emirates and Qatar,
saying they do not compete on a level playing field because they
Hogan said all Gulf carriers were not the same and said they
were rivals too. "We are different sizes, have different hubs
and follow different strategies. We are actually vigorous
competitors with each other."
Etihad also came under fire in May when an Australian paper
reported it had access to an interest-free loan from the Abu
Dhabi's ruling family.
"We received start-up capital, like every airline does, but
we receive no state subsidies, no free fuel and no reduced
airport charges in the United Arab Emirates," Hogan said in the
comments, which were made at a conference in Vienna.
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Sophie Walker)