UAE government-owned carrier Etihad Airways inaugurated its fourth destination in North America on April 1, starting daily flights between Abu Dhabi and Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. Etihad last opened a new route to North America more than three years ago by starting service to Chicago, adding to its previous launches in New York and Toronto. Emirates, the largest Middle East carrier, started service between Washington Dulles and Dubai last September.
Etihad will serve the new route with three Airbus A340-500s, each configured for 12 first class, 28 business class and 200 economy seats, for a total of 3,360 seats per week. The 15-hour flight from Abu Dhabi International Airport departs at 10 a.m.; the 13-hour, 30-minute flight from Washington Dulles departs at 10:30 p.m. Etihad said it has invested $6.8 million in a premium lounge near its gate at Dulles Airport’s Terminal A.
The airline is experiencing “encouraging forward bookings in both directions,” Etihad Airways president and CEO James Hogan said while appearing with UAE ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba and U.S. ambassador Michael Corbin during a ceremony in downtown Washington, D.C., on April 2.
Although the ambassadors framed the new route as a sign of the growing economic ties between the U.S. and UAE, Hogan said that diplomacy did not motivate him to begin service to the U.S. capital region. “We wouldn’t enter the Washington market unless there is a business case,” he said, adding that he felt “no pressure from [Etihad’s] owner to fly to cities as a public utility.”
Now a decade old, Etihad serves 86 passenger and cargo destinations, and carried 10.3 million passengers last year. The airline operates 73 Airbus and Boeing aircraft and has placed orders for 90 more, including 41 Boeing 787-9s and 10 Airbus A380s. Plans call for it to receive its first Dreamliner and first A380 in next year’s fourth quarter. Hogan expressed satisfaction “with the resolution to the current issue” of burning lithium-ion batteries on the grounded 787, following a recent meeting with Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner. “In any new entry into service you expect issues,” he said. “It’s going to be a great airplane. Are we confident and committed to the 787? Absolutely.”
Since 2011 Etihad has owned a nearly 30-percent stake in German low-fare carrier Air Berlin, Europe’s sixth largest airline; it also holds equity investments in Air Seychelles, Aer Lingus and Virgin Australia. Hogan said Etihad remains confident about the current restructuring taking place at Air Berlin. “We have no intention of injecting any more money into Air Berlin, nor have they asked for it,” he said.