| ABU DHABI
ABU DHABI May 4 Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways on
Sunday said its strategy of buying stakes in European airlines
was bringing fresh competition to the region, despite close
scrutiny by regulators over whether its investments comply with
European ownership rules.
State-owned Etihad is building up a network of minority
stakes in airlines around the world as it seeks to drive traffic
to its Abu Dhabi hub.
"We are bringing competition in the market. Some legacy
carriers are using the European Commission to challenge us
rather than challenge us through competition," James Hogan told
reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Abu Dhabi.
"We are open with our strategy, we can't own or control any
carrier because of bilateral, ownership rules," he said.
Etihad currently has holdings in Air Berlin, Air
Lingus and Air Serbia, and is looking to buy a chunk of
Italy's ailing carrier Alitalia.
However, it has come under scrutiny from the European
Commission which is examining several foreign holdings in
European airlines to see if they comply with rules for operating
an airline within the region.
These include Etihad's stake in Germany's Air Berlin, along
with Delta Air Lines' holding in Britain's Virgin
In order to obtain an operating licence in the EU as a
European airline, a carrier must be more than 50 percent owned
and "effectively controlled" by an EU member state or EU
Etihad owns 29.2 percent of Air Berlin and a majority stake
in its frequent flier programme. It recently invested 300
million euros in the German airline via convertible bonds.
State-owned Gulf airlines, backed by strong oil revenues,
are competing for dominance in the aviation industry and a
larger share of the passenger base.
On Sunday, Etihad unveiled plans for passengers on its new
Airbus A380s to fly in a three-room suite with a
private butler, as it looks to woo high-end passengers from its
biggest rival and top superjumbo customer Emirates.
Dubbed 'The Residence', the upper deck of the A380 would be
transformed into apartments, a global first in the aviation
industry, featuring a living room, separate double bedroom and
ensuite shower room.
Etihad will take delivery of the first of its 10 A380s in
December to service the Abu Dhabi-London route. The first of its
71 Boeing 787s will also be delivered in December.
Dubai's Emirates already has dozens of super jumbos in
operations and was the one of first to introduce showers for its
first class customers.
Etihad will also offer an enhanced first class suite on its
new Boeing 787s.
(Reporting By Stanley Carvalho; Editing by Sophie Hares)