Etihad thrilled with new Perth route

An Etihad A340-600 in Perth earlier this week. (Brenden Scott)
An Etihad A340-600 in Perth earlier this week. (Brenden Scott)

Etihad Airways chief commercial officer Peter Baumgartner says the airline’s new Perth route has produced “remarkable numbers” thanks in part to the partnership with Virgin Australia. The airline started services to Perth from its Abu Dhabi hub in July, and Baumgartner said the flights had exceeded internal targets.

“We are an ambitious company and it’s not that easy to exceed sales expectations but I have to say Perth ramped up even beyond my expectations,” Baumgartner told delegates at the CAPA Australia Pacific aviation summit in Sydney on Thursday.

“It also shows how well the partnership with Virgin works.”

Etihad owns about 20 per cent of Virgin Australia, with the United Arab Emirates flag carrier’s chief executive James Hogan to take a seat on the Virgin board.

The benefits of the equity investment in Virgin, as well as the reciprocal frequent flyer arrangements and deep codeshare across each other’s networks, highlighted the win-win nature of such arrangements. However, these sorts of investments haven’t gone down as well in parts of Europe, where Etihad has equity partnerships with Germany’s AirBerlin, Air Serbia and others, as well as a proposed tie up with Italian flag carrier Alitalia.

It, and Delta’s 49 per cent investment in Virgin Atlantic, has also prompted an investigation by European Union regulators.

But Baumgartner said Etihad was more than aware of its obligations under European law.

“A key component of us partnering with an airline is that we believe in the management team and that we believe in credibility of the business plan,” Baumgartner said.

“We couldn’t run a partner airline, nor would we want to or would we allowed to.

“We are very conscious of what the rules are, what the regulations are.”

Moreover, Etihad’s partnerships helped support airlines and aviation jobs in Europe, and gave airlines in the airline’s partnership the ability to save costs through initiatives such as joint procurement, shared aircraft orders and joint training, he said.

“I demand to be considered a good news story for all those geographies that we have partner airlines with,” Baumgartner said.

“Could Europe do without foreign investment? No.”

“Could Europe thankfully decline Etihad’s support of their airline industry? No.”

Etihad, in partnership with Virgin, flies 35 times a week from Australia to Abu Dhabi – daily from Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne and twice daily from Sydney.