Aegean sees room to grow new Abu Dhabi link

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Aegean Airlines may boost frequencies on its new Athens-Abu Dhabi route, managing director Dimitrios Gerogiannis says, but only after carefully evaluating its fledgling partnership with Etihad Airways.

The Greek carrier today inaugurated its four-times weekly route, complementing Etihad’s existing daily service. The Gulf carrier will also raise frequencies on the route from seven to 10 per week on 2 July.

“We’ll see how this goes. It’s the first step in this co-operation,” Gerogiannis tells Flightglobal. “If we see benefits, then we can increase our frequencies.

“Things have to start small, deliver the first positive signs, and then probably you can increase frequencies. We don’t believe in big-bang co-operation. You have to start small, test the ground, and see whether the co-operation can work.”

Under the current codeshare agreement, announced in December 2013, Aegean will place its code on Etihad-operated services to Athens, Bahrain, Johannesburg, Kuwait, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. In return, Etihad is placing its code on Aegean-operated flights to 16 Greek destinations plus 10 other European cities.

Some of the domestic Greek routes will be operated by loss-making subsidiary Olympic Air, which wet-leases its Bombardier Dash 8s to Aegean for island-to-island services.

But there are no discussions to envelop Olympic’s turboprops under the new Etihad Regional brand, Gerogiannis insists. Etihad has vowed to expand its regional European brand beyond the current partnership with Darwin Airline, which was unveiled in November 2013.

“No, this [Etihad Regional] is not being considered,” the Aegean boss says. “We want to enter into co-operation only if we believe there will be benefits for both sides.”

An equity investment in Aegean by Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier is also not on the table, although Gerogiannis says there are potential “next steps” for the partnership. He stresses: “It’s purely co-operation on the airline business, [meaning route] networks and codeshares.”

Aegean returned to profit in 2013 after three years of losses during the eurozone crisis. The airline will expand with five leased Airbus A320-family aircraft this year, bringing its jet fleet to 36. Olympic’s fleet of 14 turboprops will remain unchanged.

Etihad has signed codeshare deals with about 50 global partners in an effort to match the scale of its Gulf rivals through non-organic growth. It holds equity in seven of its partners.