Etihad Airways president and CEO James Hogan stated (04-Apr-2013) traditional airline alliances are becoming fragmented and no longer deliver value to their member airlines. Mr Hogan said Etihad's equity alliances with Aer Lingus, airberlin, Air Seychelles and Virgin Australia allowed easier access to new markets and greater scope to expand networks and reduce operating costs. Mr Hogan said, "The traditional airline alliances have evolved into slow-to-respond, bureaucratic organisations which struggle to deliver added value to their member airlines, many of which are no longer compatible with each other. If we look at the consolidation currently occurring throughout the airline industry, we are also seeing more fragmentation within the alliances. This is going to continue as members seek ways to operate profitably in a very competitive environment with high fuel costs and generally slower global economic growth... It is easier, faster and far more cost effective to grow through one-on-one partnerships with established, respected carriers than it is to rely totally on our own resources, and to start from scratch in every market we serve." [more - original PR]
Traditional alliances no longer deliver value to members: Etihad Airways CEO
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Etihad to review equity airline investments as partners decrease their Abu Dhabi presence
Partnerships are easier to announce than to sustain. That is evident with Etihad Airways and its Abu Dhabi hub, which is experiencing a decrease in capacity and flights from Etihad's equity and codeshare partners. Etihad established itself as the nucleus of a model in which partner airlines from around the world fly to Abu Dhabi and connect passengers onwards. Now all but one of Etihad's investment airlines are shrinking in Abu Dhabi. All partner capacity has fallen 22% compared to 2015 but is still up 46% compared to 2013.
This is not a one-way review but a significant shake up in relatively short time. On 18-Jan-2017 CEO James Hogan remarked "We are committed to our equity partner strategy." A week later on 24-Jan-2017, as Etihad's chairman announced Mr Hogan's departure in 2H2017 (with no successor named), he said Etihad remains committed to its equity network but opened the door to adjustments: "We must ensure that the airline is the right size and the right shape. We must progress and adjust our airline equity partnerships."
Etihad's partnership approach, and its challenges to address ailing airberlin, could further adjust on 01-Feb-2017 as Etihad and Lufthansa plan further cooperation. Even though airberlin has mostly delivered financial pain, it could provide the key to an invaluable strategic bridge.
Lufthansa and Etihad bedfellows - at last - but unions may make marriage a distant prospect
There can be no understating the symbolic change in mindset of Lufthansa agreeing to partner with Etihad. Lufthansa has spent the better part of a decade rallying against Gulf airlines to the press, lobbying in Europe's power corridors and seeking a range of aeropolitical measures to wind back new competitors. Etihad has been the prime target for its investment and ongoing top-ups in a range of European airlines including Lufthansa's home competitor, the failing airberlin. Despite that, it is not well known that the two have come close to a liaison before, suggesting that each sees an intrinsic logic in a relationship.
The partnership has potential to be more significant than Emirates-Qantas, Qatar-IAG or Etihad-AF-KLM. But for now it is limited in scope and caution should be exercised in extrapolating too far at this stage.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr is seeking new growth platforms that sidestep the flagship business' uncompromising unions who would seemingly prefer a status quo that exists only in memory. Their support will be necessary if the partnership is to work and grow. Then Lufthansa, which has rallied the Star Alliance and JV partners against Gulf airlines, will need to explain its change of heart. For now Lufthansa will not partner on Etihad's beyond-Abu Dhabi network, a move that would embrace the fundamental business plan of Etihad and peers. That upside remains a matter for speculation.