Etihad Airways has won Air Transport World’s airline of the year award in what the chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s flagship carrier said was a vindication of the quality of its services amid an onslaught of criticism from US rivals over purported government subsidies Arabian Gulf carriers receive.
“There have been attacks on our business model but we have chosen to let our service, our routes and our competitive offer do the talking,” James Hogan said. “Etihad is not about being the biggest – it’s about being the best.”
Etihad beat more than 100 entrants to the top prize for carriers and the US-based aviation industry publication cited the airline’s successful growth strategy and commercial focus, among other attributes, that helped it bag the prize.
Mr Hogan has warned that legacy carriers such as the Big Three US airlines – American, Delta and United – and Germany’s Lufthansa, were doing their best to stifle new competition. US airlines have alleged that Arabian Gulf rivals have been the beneficiaries of more than US$42 billion in government subsidies, going against the open skies policy which promotes free market practices. Arabian Gulf governments have all denied these claims.
Etihad is also under pressure from German regulators over its codesharing on 31 routes with airberlin, in which it has a 29.2 per cent stake, and Etihad has until January to find an alternative arrangement.
“To win an award for airline of the year from a leading US travel industry publication, especially in the context of the open skies row, is a big deal,” said Rosemary Behan, The National’s travel editor. “It’s a strong vote of confidence amid a lot of criticism and shows grass-roots appreciation in the United States for the airline’s contribution to the advancement of air travel.”
The award, which was inaugurated in 1974, comes on the heels of Etihad’s launching of its Airbus A380 service to the US last week. The carrier’s take on the world’s biggest commercial aircraft includes The Residence, a three-room luxury suite on the Abu Dhabi-JFK route. It has also opened a new lounge at JFK. Etihad has introduced the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the Abu Dhabi-Washington route.
“These developments have not gone unnoticed by the American travelling public, who appreciate the service and good-value fares on offer,” Behan said.
The accolade also comes a week after Etihad won an award for the world’s best first-class cabin in the inaugural Middle East Ultras, presented last week at Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Readers of Ultratravel Middle East, The National’s luxury travel magazine, voted across 20 categories including airlines, hotels, destinations and tour operators.
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