Emirates in talks to acquire Etihad - aviation sources
Dubai's flagship airline Emirates is looking at taking over unprofitable neighbour Etihad, according to four people familiar with the matter, in a move that would create the world's biggest carrier by passenger traffic.
Talks, which are at a preliminary stage, would see Emirates acquire the main airline business of Abu Dhabi's Etihad, which would keep its maintenance arm, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter is confidential. The negotiations could yet fall through, they said.
Both airlines initially declined to comment, before later denying that talks were under way. Were a transaction to go ahead the enlarged airline operation would be bigger than that of American Airlines, which has a market value of $19.2bn (€16.3bn).
Any deal would require the blessing of the rulers of the richest sheikhdoms in the United Arab Emirates. For Abu Dhabi, which sits on 6pc of global oil reserves, it would advance a drive to overhaul state-controlled entities as it adapts to lower crude prices.
The airlines have traditionally been arch rivals, with their hubs competing to attract the same transfer passengers making long-distance trips between Asia and the West.
Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and president Tim Clark have previously played down speculation that the carriers might combine, Sheikh Ahmed saying in May that there have never been merger talks.
Mr Clark said in June that the issue was one for shareholders, while adding that he saw nothing happening in the short-to-medium-term.
A combination of the airlines would provide further evidence of the sheikdoms consolidating businesses to boost competitiveness. Abu Dhabi and Dubai companies formed Emirates Global Aluminium, one of the world's largest producers, in a $15bn combination in 2013, and the two have studied a merger of their stock exchanges. The Dubai government was also the driving force in compelling Emirates to cooperate with local discount carrier FlyDubai.
Etihad has been shrinking its operations following the failure of a so-called equity alliance strategy that saw it invest in a number of generally ailing foreign operators to help feed more traffic through Abu Dhabi. One of those, Air Berlin, collapsed last year while another, Italy's Alitalia, filed for bankruptcy protection, causing the pact to largely unravel.