Virgin Blue Group of Airlines has become the first Australian carrier to operate in the Middle East for 20 years, after launching its inaugural V Australia flight to Abu Dhabi on February 24.
The initally three times weekly Abu Dhabi serivce comes as part of the codesharing alliance agreement between Virgin Blue and Etihad, which will see both airlines offer 27 weekly services between Abu Dhabi and Australia.
Virgin Blue CEO and managing director John Borghetti said the new flights will enable Australian passengers to “fly one-stop to more than 14 destinations in Europe and the United Kingdom”. Borghetti also noted greater opportunities for “Virgin Blue and Etihad customers to earn frequent flyer points and status credits”, due both airline’s codeshare agreement.
“IATA recently forecasted the Middle East as the top region for international passenger demand growth in the world at 9.4 per cent over the next three years,” Borghetti said.
Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan said both the airline and the emirate of Abu Dhabi were eagerly awaiting “the inaugural V Australia flight”. “Already, the response to our network partnership has been very positive. Forward bookings are strong and we are seeing increased strength in the market with the capability of round-the-world connectivity,” Hogan said.
“Etihad deploys more than 15 per cent of its entire global network seat kilometres to Australia and we are committed to driving long-term, incremental inbound tourism growth to this market, and to offering greater choice and competition for inbound and outbound travellers.”
Australian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Doug Trappett and VB ambassador Ian Thorpe joined Borghetti and Hogan on board V Australia’s first Sydney-Abu Dhabi service, with Thorpe looking to continue his training for the 2012 Olympics in the UAE.
The flight arrived at Abu Dhabi at 11.40pm GST in the evening.