Etihad Airways is readying itself for the enormous growth potential of India’s travel market, Abu Dhabi’s biggest source for international travellers.
The carrier on Wednesday launched daily A380 flights to Mumbai. The A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft.
“It demonstrates our belief in India, the future of India, the importance of that market for travel, our trust of how India and the Indian economy will develop in the years to come,” said Peter Baumgartner, Etihad’s chief commercial officer, at a media conference in Mumbai on Wednesday to mark the new service. “You have to be ready and there as this is happening.”
The UN World Tourism Organization has predicted that there will be 50 million Indians travelling overseas annually by 2020.
Mumbai is the fourth destination for Etihad’s A380 service.
Mr Baumgartner highlighted the importance of the links between India and the UAE.
“It has always been a very strong relationship, a very historic relationship with economic, cultural and social ties and we continue to support that,” he said.
Total trade between India and the UAE is expected to reach US$100 billion by 2020.
“We, with our partnership with Jet Airways, make a very direct contribution to this very integral part of that engine room that drives these economic benefits forward,” Mr Baumgartner said.
In 2013 Etihad became the first foreign airline to buy a stake in an Indian carrier, when it acquired a 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways for $379 million.
Etihad has 175 services to 11 cities in India, while 20 per cent of the airline’s global workforce is Indian.
Etihad and Jet Airways have a combined total of 44,000 seats between Abu Dhabi and India each week and there is “still growth potential for us”, Mr Baumgartner said.
There is also “huge potential for growth” in its cargo services to India, he said.
When the inaugural 496-seat A380 flight landed in Mumbai on Sunday, Etihad decided against receiving the spray of water that traditionally greets new flights because of the severe drought in the state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located.
Etihad’s A380 includes its ultra-luxury three-room suite, The Residence.
The carrier has been taking steps to boost its profile in India with initiatives such as its sponsorship of the Mumbai Indians cricket team in the Indian Premier League for three consecutive years.
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