Billing itself as the fastest-growing airline in the history of commercial aviation, Etihad Airways keeps doing everything in its power to maintain momentum. Last week it announced the June 1 launch of nonstop flights to Los Angeles from Abu Dhabi, supported by the purchase of five Boeing 777-200LRs from Air India. By the end of the year, Etihad plans to expand its fleet to 87 airplanes, including the five Air India jets and 14 new widebodies delivered by Boeing and Airbus this year.
Facing high costs and increased competition, Air France-KLM’s management must pick its battles. Having announced plans for up to 2,800 job cuts on September 18, the European airline this week deferred a decision on whether or not it will provide further investment to plug holes in the sieve-like balance sheet of Alitalia. It holds a 25-percent stake in the Italian carrier, and Italy’s government has indicated it would be willing to see the Franco-Dutch group increase that share to 50 percent.
The death knell for India’s Kingfisher Airlines sounded as lender banks took possession of the airline’s 25,850-sq-ft headquarters property in Mumbai on August 10. Carrying some $1 billion in outstanding debt, liquor tsar Vijay Mallya and his United Breweries Group have seen wholly owned Kingfisher accumulate $2.6 billion in losses since its launch in 2005. Most recently, it registered a loss of $188 million for the quarter running from April to June.
Clearance of Etihad Airways’s $380 million investment in Jet Airways by India’s Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) last week has paved the way for completion of the deal. The airlines now await approval from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), which oversees foreign investment proposals of more than $200 million, and security clearances of foreign nationals.
Etihad Airways will take a 49-percent stake in Serbian national airline JatAirways under the terms of a deal with the government of Serbia announced Thursday that includes the award of a five-year management contract to Etihad. The deal also calls for Abu Dhabi-based Etihad to match a $40 million capital injection in the airline by the Serbian government with a loan facility that would convert into equity on January 1 of next year.
A major restructuring at Air India has cut loss-making routes to 25 percent of its network in the fiscal year ending March 2013, down from 69 percent in the previous year. The airline attributes the improvement to a series of steps taken to cut costs, restructure loans, strengthen management and liquidate assets, including the spin-off of engineering and ground handling as independent profit centers.
Even as AirAsia India prepares to apply for a No Objection Certificate to start domestic operations, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has invested $379 million in India’s Jet Airways. The outlay gives Etihad a 24-percent share in India’s second largest carrier.
The Indian government’s new budget, released on February 28, brought little relief for the country’s ailing air transport sector, although the industry awaits a possible announcement of some reduction in high aviation fuel taxes. In particular, the budget documents made no mention of hoped-for fiscal support for India’s emerging regional airline industry.
The withdrawal of Kingfisher Airlines’ domestic airport slots and international flying rights by India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation on February 25 could make a phased restart of the carrier even more challenging. Meanwhile, authorities have de-registered 13 of the 37 aircraft parked in India, but airports haven’t allowed lessors to claim their assets until Kingfisher pays pending dues totaling $72 million.
“[Kingfisher has] to give some guarantee [to pay], said Airports Authority of India chairman V.P. Agrawal. “Bank checks worth $21 million…bounced. A legal issue is going on.”
Malaysia’s AirAsia has unveiled plans to launch a new domestic airline in India by the fourth quarter of 2013. Under the terms of a deal announced on February 21, the largest low-fare carrier in Asia will hold a 49-percent stake–the maximum holding permitted by the Indian government for a foreign investor–in the new airline. AirAsia is partnering with major Indian industrial groups Tata (to carry a 30-percent stake) and Telestra Tradeplace (21 percent).