James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad Airways, told leaders of the global aviation industry in Washington DC on Tuesday that the “secrets” of the airline’s rapid growth were customer service, modern aircraft, competitive fares and attractive routes.
It is the first public reaction from the Abu Dhabi airline since US rivals launched a campaign against it, Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways, alleging unfair business practice in breach of open skies guidelines.
Mr Hogan also said that the campaign by American, Delta and United was a threat to competitive choice for millions of US and other air passengers.
“Open skies has been a model of success, generating enormous benefits for travellers and for airlines in the US, the UAE and around the world,” he said.
Etihad, and the two other Arabian Gulf airlines, have strongly denied they have received improper funding from their governments as they took on the big airlines of the US and Europe. The Americans allege they have received $42 billion, mostly in government subsidies, over the past decade.
“As one of the newest national airlines anywhere in the world, we’ve had to create everything from scratch: every bit of product, every bit of our operations, every bit of our infrastructure,” Mr Hogan said.
“Etihad is a David, a David who’s been facing Goliaths since 2003, when we started. In virtually every market we’ve entered, we’ve had to face existing competitors, with established businesses, established infrastructure, established sales and marketing, established brands, and established customer bases,” he said.
“In many cases, those established airlines were gifted amazing infrastructure – airports, terminals, slots, landing rights – over decades. To take them on, we’ve had to work harder and we’ve had to work smarter. That’s called competition,” Mr Hogan said.
The Allied Pilots Association, of the US aviation unions, weighed into the debate on Tuesday with a call for Gulf airlines to open their financial records.
“The massive government subsidies that have flowed to these Gulf carriers have tilted the playing field, posing a serious threat to US jobs and the long-term viability of our nation’s airline industry. It’s time for Gulf carriers to open the books,” said Keith Wilson, the APA president.
Mr Hogan said yesterday that Etihad had delivered 180,000 passengers on to the networks of US airlines last year, and 50,000 in the first two months of this year.
“Our commitment to the US economy supports more than 200,000 jobs,” he said.
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