Etihad chief Hogan charts Americas expansion strategy

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Etihad's chief executive today committed to launch service to two more US cities by 2014, open an inaugural route to South America by 2013, consider making one or two more airline investments later this year and take delivery of dozens of Airbus A350-1000s in several years.

The Abu Dhabi-based carrier's ongoing growth spurt, meanwhile, will soon come to Washington DC.

Speaking at the National Press Club, president and chief executive James Hogan announced plans to deploy a pair of A340-500s on daily non-stop service to Abu Dhabi on 31 March 2013.

"The best product in the world is coming to Washington," Hogan said.

Etihad plans to install a vice president in the US capital city by April and host another pre-launch event for the future Abu Dhabi service in October, he said.

Meanwhile, the carrier still plans to grow into more US markets. With the carrier expecting the first of 41 787-9s to be delivered in late 2014, two new US cities will enter the Etihad network.

Hogan did not name which US cities are of interest. However, with New York, Washington and Chicago already taken, the West Coast may beckon with the possibility of the 787-9 taking the east-bound route from Abu Dhabi.

South America will also be opened to a direct route to Abu Dhabi by the end of 2013, Hogan said.

After making major investments in troubled Air Berlin and Air Seychelles, Hogan also acknowledged the carrier could make "one or two" new investments by the end of the year.

While reports have named Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus as possible targets, Hogan avoiding directly acknowledging interest in either one. Hogan did, however, correct a journalist who mistakenly asked if Virgin America might be a target. "We've never looked at that airline," Hogan said.

Etihad last month became the first airline to cancel orders for the A350-1000, as Airbus confirmed that six of the carrier's 25 aircraft on order had been removed from the order book.

Hogan described the decision as strictly a timing issue, with the 787-9s and 777s available sooner to accommodate Etihad's rapid growth. Hogan noted that Etihad still has options for 25 A350-1000s, and intends to take delivery of the future widebody eventually.

The new Washington DC-Abu Dhabi route pits Etihad's A340-500 against a United Airlines 777-200 direct service to Dubai.

Based on the carrier's experience in New York and Chicago, Etihad expects the majority of business and first class passengers to book the route with Abu Dhabi as the destination, Hogan said. Most economy travelers will be connecting to destinations in Pakistan, India and other cities in Asia, he said.

Meanwhile, the carrier's codeshare with American Airlines will be employed on the Washington DC route, but is still mainly focused on the US carrier's Chicago hub, Hogan said.