Etihad appears to have stolen a march on its competitors looking to expand into Saudi Arabia by signing a codeshare agreement with the country's low-cost carrier Nas Air.
With 14 companies having submitted bids to the Saudi civil aviation authority, or GACA, to operate domestic air services in the kingdom, Etihad looks to have beaten many of them in gaining access to the market.
Under the agreement, Etihad Airways will place its code on Nas Air flights between the Saudi cities of Jeddah and Medina, and Abu Dhabi during its winter schedule. At the same time, Nas Air will place its code on a number of Etihad flights to Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.
François Bouteiller, Nas Air's chief executive, says it also had discussions "about equity investment, but that wasn't the objective at this stage".
GACA invited applications to operate domestic air services in January to "create a wider competitive environment". Saudia and Nas Air are the only two carriers currently licensed to operate scheduled domestic flights in the kingdom.
Nas Air is looking to more than double its fleet to around 30 aircraft in the coming years and Bouteiller says they will announce other partnerships in the near future.