Swiss-based airline Etihad Regional was launched in Zurich on Thursday heralding a new era of improved regional and international connections for travellers in Europe.
Established in partnership with UAE national carrier, Etihad Airways, the new carrier will be operated by Switzerland’s Darwin Airline, which is headquartered in Lugano with a major hub in Geneva.
The first aircraft to feature Etihad Regional’s branding, a 50-seat Saab 2000, and new cabin interiors and crew uniforms were showcased for the first time to international media at Zurich Airport, alongside an Etihad Airways Airbus A330-300 aircraft.
The new livery will adorn all 10 aircraft in the fleet by the end of June 2014.
James Hogan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Etihad Airways, explained that the strategy behind Etihad Regional was to build strong regional airline partnerships around the world.
“Etihad Regional will provide a unique opportunity to strengthen vitally important regional networks and connect them to the rapidly expanding global network of Etihad Airways.
“We will choose partners, as we have done with Darwin Airline, which share our passion for delivering an outstanding service to travellers, with greater choice and more convenience.”
Subject to regulatory approval, Etihad Airways will acquire a 33.3 per cent stake in Darwin Airline as part of its equity airline alliance strategy. Darwin Airline will become the seventh member of the international alliance and Etihad Airways’ fourth partner in Europe.
Maurizio Merlo, Chief Executive Officer of Darwin Airline, said: “Etihad Regional is good news for travellers and for Europe’s regional economies. We have a clear strategy and firm commitment to build a strong regional airline linking European cities and towns and provincial centres, which also connect to the broader global network of Etihad Airways.
“What makes Etihad Regional unique is the way Etihad Airways and its equity alliance partners, in particular airberlin and Air Serbia, can also feed passengers into the regional network.
“We expect that as Etihad Regional expands, it will be able to offer more direct employment locally, and further indirect employment opportunities in connecting regional markets.”
Etihad Regional, operated by Darwin Airline, currently offers year round flights to 15 destinations in Europe using a fleet of 10 Saab 2,000 turboprop aircraft. By mid-2014, this will more than double to 34 destinations.
With these additions, Etihad Regional’s network will include seven European gateways served by Etihad Airways: Geneva, Amsterdam, Paris, Düsseldorf, Belgrade, Zurich (commencing in June 2014) and Rome (commencing in July 2014).
Etihad Regional network will connect with airberlin in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Zurich, providing onward connectivity to destinations in Europe and North America.
The partnership also makes provision for a phased approach to introducing codeshare agreements, subject to regulatory approval. In phase one Etihad Airways will place its EY code on 16 routes operated by Darwin Airline.
In addition to network and efficiency benefits, Darwin Airline will adopt the Etihad Guest loyalty program with full earn and burn rights.
Etihad Airways’ minority shareholdings also include 29 per cent of airberlin, 40 per cent of Air Seychelles, 19.9 per cent of Virgin Australia, 3 per cent of Aer Lingus and 24 per cent of India’s Jet Airways. The airline will acquire 49 per cent of Air Serbia in January 2014.
Together, Etihad Airways and these seven airlines serve nearly 400 unique destinations with a fleet of more than 500 aircraft. In 2013, they carried a combined total of more than 80.5 million passengers – comparable to large airline partnerships in Europe.