Etihad to maintain Air Berlin's Boeing 787s

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Etihad Airways will handle the maintenance of Air Berlin's 15 Boeing 787 aircraft when they are introduced to the German carrier's fleet from 2014.

Air Berlin chief executive Helmut Mehdorn revealed the maintenance co-operation at a press conference detailing Etihad's near-€73 million ($95 million) investment in the German carrier in return for a 29% stake. Mehdorn described the new relationship as a "gift from heaven" thanks to Etihad's backlog of 41 787-9s, which will make it the largest operator of the variant.

"We can use these opportunities without having to make any more investment [in our business]," said Mehdorn.

Air Berlin's plans to join the Oneworld Alliance in early 2012 are still on track, said Mehdorn, despite Etihad becoming its largest shareholder. Mehdorn conceded that some Oneworld members may react "more emotionally" to Etihad's presence but "if someone spoke up we'd explain the situation to them", he said.

"Oneworld [membership] will proceed as planned. They will benefit from the partnership as well because Air Berlin and Etihad together are stronger than on their own," he added.

Route and timetable changes will come into effect immediately, he said, with the carrier dropping its direct flight between Berlin Tegel and Bangkok. It will now terminate at Etihad's Abu Dhabi hub with the Middle Eastern carrier performing the onward leg. Further timetable adjustments will be made as the two carriers identify areas for closer co-operation.

Initially Air Berlin will fly direct to Abu Dhabi from Berlin, Munich and Düsseldorf, a total of 29 flights per week. This will rise to 42 direct flights from Germany per week in the summer, market conditions allowing, Mehdorn said.

Outlining the path to its nearly 30% shareholding in the airline, Etihad chief executive James Hogan said it had taken a small stake in Air Berlin in early 2011 with more in-depth talks starting around two months ago.

Hogan also reiterated that Etihad has no intention of increasing its stake beyond 29%. He will be one of two Etihad personnel on Air Berlin's board, with James Rigney, Etihad chief financial officer, the other.