Gulf carrier Etihad Airways describes itself as "comfortable" with the Swiss aviation authority's review of its acquisition of a third of Darwin Airline as it reworks its original agreement to meet local ownership and control rules.
Etihad agreed a deal to buy 33.3% stake of the Swiss regional in November last year and the airline has since rebranded as Etihad Regional.
While the stake falls within European limits, Swiss federal civil aviation regulator FOCA has been looking into Etihad’s role in Darwin’s management. The regulator stresses its procedure is not over, and that Darwin has until the end of September to provide further information on the tie-up. But the regulator also strongly indicates that, as the situation stands, it has yet to be satisfied that the Etihad-Darwin partnership meets the criteria for approval.
“We are comfortable with FOCA’s review and understand and support the need for there to be absolute clarity that Etihad Airways does not, cannot and will not exercise control over Darwin Airline," says Etihad chief executive James Hogan. The Gulf carrier was advised at the end of June by the regulator the agreement needed amending.
“While our initial agreement has required amendment, we are seeking, as any minority investor would, protection for our investment. This is about protection, not control," he says. “Etihad Regional was, and will continue to be, majority owned by Swiss shareholders and operated by Swiss management.”
Darwin is one of a series of carriers, including several European operators, whom Etihad has acquired minority stakes in over recent years as part of its equity alliance strategy.
European Union regulators earlier this year launched a wider probe into whether foreign investments in European carriers comply with its ownership and control rules.