In the next step of its global expansion campaign, Etihad will enter the European regional market after its acquisition of a 33.3 per cent stake in Swiss carrier Darwin Airline. The carrier, which will be branded as Etihad Regional, will align its network to connect passengers from secondary European markets onto the main networks of Etihad and its equity alliance partners.
As much as the equity investment follows a growing line of such arrangements with international airlines, the shareholding in Darwin represents a significant departure from Etihad’s successful strategy, entering for the first time into regional operations – and rebranding a non-core airline as Etihad.
The announcement coincides with Etihad’s announcement of the introduction of daily flights between Abu Dhabi and Zurich from June 1 2014.
The Darwin network comprises high yielding corporate routes centred on its Geneva base, though with the new equity partner on board, focus will be applied to growing Darwin’s Zurich hub.
Etihad CEO described the arrangement as “a unique approach to network development for global airlines”.
“European travellers will now be able to connect from a far, far wider range of European towns and cities on Etihad-branded aircraft, through Abu Dhabi to our destinations worldwide.
“We are also linking the new Etihad Regional network into the key hubs of our equity alliance partners, bringing benefits to the customers of airberlin and Air Serbia.”
Hogan said the new approach could be extended to other markets over time.
“This new model is one that can bring the Etihad badge of quality to air travellers around the world,” he said. “In just a decade, we have established the Etihad brand as one of the most recognised and most highly regarded in aviation. This model offers a new direction for that brand in future.”
Subject to regulatory approvals, Etihad Airways will invest in Darwin Airline through the acquisition of 33.3 per cent of an enlarged share capital. Darwin, which will continue to focus on secondary markets, will become the seventh member of the Etihad Airways equity airline alliance, the fourth partner in Europe, and the first to operate using a new sub-brand called ‘Etihad Regional’.
The investment will give Etihad Airways access to regional markets in Europe, and enable a major expansion of Darwin Airline’s operations. By mid-2014, Darwin Airline will add 21 new routes and 18 new destinations. Its network will then include six European gateways served by Etihad Airways – Geneva, Amsterdam, Paris, Düsseldorf, Belgrade and, commencing in June, Zurich.