Etihad Airways' support for European airlines in which it holds a minority stake and the network decisions they make in turn are evidence that the Abu Dhabi carrier holds effective control, argues Thomas Cook's long-haul network group director Jens Boyd.

"The key point that we see is that in those, let's say, inefficient carriers like Air Berlin or Alitalia, even though their stake and stock is not more than 50%, we all know that their level of control is more than 50%," Boyd told Flightglobal at Routes Europe in Aberdeen.

"If you have a stake of less than 50%, and as an investor you are continuously investing €200-300 million a year into a business you don't control, I would doubt any sound businessman would do this," he adds.

Boyd points to Air Berlin's decision to stop flying "eastbound routes" and operate flights to Abu Dhabi "with low seat load factors". He suggests that these moves are "unsustainable on a normal basis".

Etihad holds minority stakes in several European carriers including Air Serbia, Air Berlin, Alitalia and Etihad Regional, and is the subject of an ongoing European Commission ownership and control investigation.

Boyd says the EU needs to "understand where effective control or management [is] being done in the Middle East" and where it is "moving away from Europe".

He floats the idea that Europe could consider letting the continent's airlines "work on a different basis" by effectively legalising state-aid payments in order to "level the playing field", but observes that governments "won't have the money" to support carriers "to the same extent".

Source: Cirium Dashboard