Etihad targets partners' hubs through regional operation

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Having secured four ATR 72 turboprops for operations in the second quarter of this year, Darwin Airline – which operates as Etihad Regional – is ready to push for further growth in Europe via Etihad Aviation Group’s equity partners.

The four 68-seat ATR 72-500s are being leased for three years and will complement the existing 50-seat Saab fleet as the Swiss carrier aims to connect passengers from secondary markets into Etihad Aviation Group’s European network.

“Etihad Regional is key because it is the first regional airline for Etihad Aviation Group. This is the kick-off of the regional concept to feed the network equity partners,” says vice president of Etihad Regional Peter Baumgartner.

Through June, the carrier will add 21 new routes with a large emphasis on the German market, where it has a partnership with Etihad minority-owned Air Berlin.

Etihad Regional will start services to Berlin, Cambridge and London City airports from Dusseldorf – one of Air Berlin’s main bases – as well as Poznan and Wroclaw routes from Berlin.

From Zurich, where Etihad Airways will open a daily service in June from Abu Dhabi, the regional will start operations to Leipzig in Germany. In Italy – where Etihad remains in investment talks with national carrier Alitalia – it will start services from Rome to Tirana and Zagreb. In addition it will operate a Geneva-Toulouse service.

In May Etihad Regional will start flights from Zurich to Geneva, Florence and Turin as well as add a Belgrade service from Geneva.

In June plans are to launch flights from Zurich to Linz, Graz, Verona and Lyon while the carrier will add four destinations -Bordeaux, Marseilles, Nantes and Verona - from Geneva.

“These are relevant network destinations and European gateways for Etihad,” adds Baumgartner.

The current parallel negotiations between Alitalia and Etihad could also benefit the regional operation in the future. Etihad Regional, which has a separate collaboration agreement with Alitalia, operates flights to 13 destinations in Italy.

In addition it will initially base two of the four ATR 72-500s in Lampedusa and Pantelleria to take advantage of the summer traffic.

Baumgartner says Etihad is still in “due diligence phase” with the Italian national carrier. “All aspects are taken into consideration and we need to get the synergies and improvements we can create on this partnership,” he says.

“We have to see how we can also create benefits for Etihad Regional into this agreement,” he adds.