Etihad chief hints at California expansion

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Etihad Airways chief executive James Hogan today hinted at the carrier's next destination in the US market as it formally commenced daily service between Abu Dhabi and Washington Dulles.

As the UAE flag carrier plans to add a fourth destination in the USA next year, Hogan was asked if there was any connection between Etihad's growth strategy and reports that the UAE will open a consulate office in California.

"We certainly have on the radar to enter another US city next year but that [location] hasn't been announced yet," Hogan says during a press conference in Washington DC. "But you can make a pretty good guess."

The USA is expected to be a key growth market for Etihad as it takes delivery of dozens of new widebodies over the next seven years, including 41 Boeing 787-9s starting in December 2014.

Emirates and United Airlines already operate daily frequencies between Washington Dulles and Dubai, a neighbouring emirate within the UAE. But Etihad is the first to launch service between Washington Dulles and Abu Dhabi, using a 240-seat Airbus A340-500 aircraft.

The state-owned carrier noted the diplomatic value of the route, with the UAE ambassador to Washington DC and the US ambassador to Abu Dhabi attending the press conference. But Hogan insists that the business case for the route was the deciding factor in making Washington the carrier's third destination in the USA after New York John F. Kennedy and Chicago O'Hare.

"Already we're seeing very encouraging forward bookings for travel in both directions," Hogan says.

The route is the first of five new destinations that will be added to Etihad's network in 2013. The carrier also plans to launch service to South America in June, with the inaugural flight between Abu Dhabi and Sao Paulo.