Airlines in the Gulf Region have witnessed massive growth over the past decade. Carriers expanding from regional networks that were largely ignored by American, European and Asian airlines expanded into massive global networks that seemingly overnight overtook the established global powerhouses … and in some cases these airlines came literally out of no where.
One airline that sprang up from no where to become a major global competitor is Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, who celebrates its eighth birthday today. In July 2003 Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan issued a Royal Decree that Etihad Airways was to be created as the national flag carrier for Abu Dhabi, and the seed money of US$115,000,000 was granted to establish Etihad Airways. Roughly four months after the Royal Decree to establish Etihad was issued the newly created airline flew for the first time … today … the 5th of November 2003.
While Etihad’s first flight was not on the global scale the airline would come to be a major presence in, flying 62 miles from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain, the carrier would soon begin making history. Less than a year after the Royal Decree to initially create Etihad, the airline placed a US$8-billion in orders at for 24 Airbus Aircraft and five Boeing 777-3FX/ER aircraft. Three years later, in 2008, Etihad placed the largest order in airline history at the Farnborough Airshow for 205 aircraft, with 100 first orders, 55 options and a further 50 purchase rights.
In a mere eight years of existence, Etihad has transformed from a dream to a current fleet of 59 aircraft, and growing constantly with the airline waiting on the delivery of 97 ordered aircraft, as well as having been the launch customer for the Airbus A330-200F. From a the airline’s first official route to Beirut, the carrier has gone on to become the fastest glowing airline in the history of the industry, now serving 70 destinations, in 42 countries, on 5 continents, along with 14 destinations with Etihad Crystal Cargo.
In addition to Etihad’s rapid growth in fleet and network, the airline has taken home countless awards for service from travel organizations and publications from around the world.
As a business, on the whole, Etihad’s explosion onto the world stage has been unprecedented. From a company no one had heard of, over shadowed by its national rival Emirates Airlines, Etihad has gone onto be the official sponsor of the Manchester City Football Club in the UK, including having the naming rights to ‘Etihad Stadium,’ … as well as having the naming rights to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne Australia. The airline is also the title sponsor of a Formula 1 race, and the title sponsor of the London Broncos (formerly the Harlequins), a professional rugby team in the UK, which includes having the Etihad logo painted on the roof of stadium the team plays at, which is directly in the flight path of London Heathrow Airport.
In eight short years Etihad has turned heads like no other airline. It has become a major airline to be contended with not only among Middle East and Gulf Region airlines, but global carriers as a whole. What will the next eight years bring for Etihad? Only time will tell.