Small carrier, big vision

The air cargo growth driver in the Middle East, which as a region recorded 10.7 per cent airfreight growth in the first five months of 2008, is undoubtedly the rapid infrastructure expansion, according to Des Vertannes, Etihad Airways' executive vice president cargo. Wong Joon San has the story.


While the Middle East did better than the global air freight volumes which were up 2.8 per cent in the first five months of 2008 based on the International Airport Transport Association’s (IATA) statistics,Etihad Crystal Cargo out-performed both the industry and the Middle East with a stellar performance in the first half ofthis year.

“The division carried more than 127,000 global shipments, a 22 per cent rise compared with the first half of 2007.These shipments had a combined weight of more than 100,000 tonnes,” Vertannes said.

“Additional revenues from high oil prices has enabled countries across the region to enhance their investments in projects linked to tourism, development of non-oil and gas industries, health, education and transport infra structure,”he said.

Etihad’s home base, Abu Dhabi, which alone is home to around 1.4 million people, is estimated to see its population rise to between three and five million people by 2030. As the city becomes an even more important regional hub for business and tourism, this has obviously led to greater air freight services demand,a trend that has contributed significantly to Etihad Crystal Cargo’s growth.

Fleet upgrading key

Another reason for the airline’s continued growth is Etihad Airways’ fleet of modern passenger and freighter aircraft and its expanding global flight network. In addition to Etihad’s 38 passenger aircraft, Etihad Crystal Cargo operates a fleet of two Airbus A300-600RF and an MD11 freighter aircraft.

The cargo terminal at Abu Dhabi airport has also expanded recently and can now handle more than 270,000 tonnes of cargo a year. This has been supported by Etihad Crystal Cargo signing up Abu Dhabi Customs’ ‘goldcard’ programme which provides faster and more convenient clearance,and increased security of imported shipments.

Although in operations for less than four years, Etihad Crystal Cargo continues to win market share by delivering consistently high service standards which is supported by close alliances with strategic partners.

The most recent interline deal between Etihad with CargoItalia provides customers with continued freighter capacity access between Abu Dhabi and Milan. The service links with CargoItalia’s network of destinations in the USA and Central America including New York, Chicago, Houston as well as Mexico City.

Recently, Boeing and Etihad Airways announced a show-stealing order for 35 B787-9 Dream liners and 10 B777-300ERs (Extended Range) aircraft at the Farnborough Airshow, a total order valued at nearly US$9.4 billion at currentlist prices.

It has also options for a further 25 B787s and 10 B777s and has agreed purchase rights for a further 10 B787s and five B777s bringing the total aircraft order up to 95 wide-body aircraft.Aircraft deliveries will begin in 2011 and be completed in 2020.

“The new-generation Boeing aircraft we have ordered are among the most fuel efficient and will help maintain Etihad’s fleet as one of the youngest and greenest in the sky,” said James Hogan, EtihadAirways’ CEO.

“The size of our order also mirrors the rising prominence of the Middle East and its increasing emergence as a new focal point of global aviation,” Hogan said.

“The Gulf is also a natural air bridge between East and West offering the fastest air links for travellers and freight forwarders,” he added.

Since beginning commercial operations in November 2003, Etihad Airways has grown rapidly to offer service to 45 destinations. “The story of Etihad’s growth has been a remarkable one,” said Etihad chairman Shaikh Ahmed bin SaifAl Nahyan.

“At every stage of our short history we have surprised people with the scale of our ambition – and at every stage we have delivered on that ambition,” Shaikh Ahmed added.

Up beat business outlook

On the business front, Etihad Airways is upbeat of higher business volume between Malaysia and the Middle East and plans to have daily flights on the Abu Dhabi-Kuala Lumpur route by late 2009 or 2010.

Etihad is currently flying six times a week on the route and now enjoys a high load factor of 80 percent, said its chief executive officer James Hogan recently.Etihad also plans to start a third daily Bangkok-Abu Dhabi flight and forge closer business ties with Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways, Hogan said.

The CEO, who emphasised the importance of Bangkok as the airline’s secondary hub to its home base in Abu Dhabi, said the third daily flight could begin in April next year due to good demand.

Etihad wants to upgrade co-operation with the two Thai airlines through code sharing agreements.

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Turning to India, Etihad said that it will launch flights on August 1, 2008 from its Abu Dhabi home base to Kozhikode (Calicut) and Chennai (Madras), in India. The airline will operate a daily service to both cities using A320 aircraft and bring the number of Indian destinations served by Etihad to six.

Subject to governmental approval, Etihad is pushing to secure further traffic rights from Abu Dhabi to other Indian cities – Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangaloreand Hyderabad.

Etihad Airways has started scheduled freighter service to Karachi, Pakistan,from its Abu Dhabi base, effective May 11. It operates the route on a weekly basis using an A300-600F.


Growing its China links

In another development, Etihad Airways has obtained approval from the civil aviation authorities of Chinato operate regular cargo flights service from Shenzhen to Abu Dhabi.

The twice weekly service, which will be the first regular cargo flight from Shenzhen Airport to the United Arab Emirates, will use an A300-622R freighter. The service will have stop overs at Dhaka (Bangladesh) and at Calcutta (India) respectively.

According to the official Shenzhen Airport frontier inspection station, although the aircraft has already achieved the operating right, but it is still under intense preparation. No date for the service launch was announced.

Air links between Oman and China have improved with Etihad Airways launching a new, four-flights-per-week,service from Abu Dhabi to Beijing on 30 March, 2008.

Etihad Crystal Cargo has also, earlier in the year, launched freighter operations to the Nigerian city of Lagos and Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. The services to Lagos started on 31 March, operating every Monday. The operations are serviced by Etihad Crystal Cargo’s MD 11F aircraft.

Freighter operations to Colombo started on 2 April and they are routed via the airline’s current cargo-only service to Chennai. Etihad offers 40 tonnes of cargo, every Wednesday and Saturday on board its A300-600F aircraft.