Australia and the UAE signed a new bilateral in late March, giving Emirates rights to add 35 weekly flights and Etihad 21 weekly flights by 2010.

Emirates now operates 49 weekly flights from its Dubai hub to four Australian gateways - Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney - with 28 of the flights continuing on to New Zealand. "We will definitely beef up existing flights to all four gateways we service," says Emirates executive vice-president commercial operations Ghaith Al Ghaith, adding a fifth Australian gateway is "possible but not decided".

Ghaith says the deal gives Emirates what it wants for the next few years although it is restricted from initially adding a third daily flight to Sydney. "The next step is open skies," he says.

Etihad in late March opened its first route to Australia, a thrice-weekly service from its Abu Dhabi hub to Sydney that will increase to daily in late June. "Australia is important for us because we move people from Australia over our hub to the Middle East and Europe," says Etihad executive vice-president finance James Rigney.

Etihad will also benefit from a new bilateral with India that was signed in March which allows more flights to Delhi and Mumbai as well as new flights to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Rigney says India is a key growth market for Etihad and is considered a local market, adding Abu Dhabi is "at the door step of the Indian subcontinent".

Source: Airline Business