Business Irish

Friday 29 August 2014

We won't up our Aer Lingus stake 'for now' – Etihad

Kevin Doyle Abu Dhabi

Published 05/05/2014 | 02:30

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The social lobby of the plane

GULF airline Etihad has ruled out buying the Government's or Ryanair's stake in Aer Lingus "for now".

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The Abu-Dhabi-based airline was widely speculated to be interested in bulking up its investment in Aer Lingus after twice buying shares in the open market last March.

Etihad has confirmed that it now has exactly a 4.9pc holding in the airline. The Irish Independent revealed in March that it had continued to increase its Aer Lingus stake after breaching the 4pc mark.

However, Etihad chief executive James Hogan said the airline had no intention of increasing that holding.

"That's where we'll stay for now," he said, when questioned at a conference yesterday to launch Etihad's new vision for luxury travel, which includes 'apartment' accommodation on flights.

Mr Hogan also said Etihad intended to start flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliners to Dublin at some point in the future.

"The Irish market is very important to us," he said. "We were the first to open up that market and we're very proud of our position in Ireland.

"The 787 will move at a point in time to Ireland. It's a natural fit for that market."

Mr Hogan said Etihad was "committed" to its Dublin-Abu Dhabi route but he played down speculation that it was interested in becoming a major shareholder in Aer Lingus.

Analysts had predicted that it was posed to bid for either the Government's 25.1pc share or Ryanair's near 30pc holding.

"In regard to Aer Lingus, we're at 4.9pc," he said. "We have a very good relationship with Aer Lingus. We code share. We network. We code share over Dublin to places like Boston that we don't operate into.

"Both Emirates and ourselves are strengthening our position for traffic. It's a great market. We're committed to it."

Rival Emirates operates three class flights out of Dublin – for first, business and economy customers – but Etihad operates two.

"It's economics. Do we see the demand for a first class product? If yes we'll place a three-class product back into Ireland. But I'd rather have the right aircraft, that fits two class instead, then upgrading people into first class. The two class meets our requirements today."

He was speaking in Abu Dhabi where Etihad revealed its masterplan for the future of flying. It includes a major redesign of its aircraft to allow for 'hotel-style' interiors. Mr Hogan said the move would leave competitors "scratching their heads".

Its new Airbus A380 will debut a three-room cabin called 'The Residence', which includes a double bed, lounge area, shower room and personal butler. A one-way trip from Abu Dhabi to destinations including the US, Australia and Europe will cost in the region of $20,000 (€14,400) but Mr Hogan claimed it would be "better than a private jet". The planes will also have nine apartments which are 74pc larger than the current first class configuration on other aircraft.

Lounges with big screen TVs and prayer areas are also part of the plan, while economy seats have been redesigned to make them more suitable for sleeping.

Irish Independent

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