Etihad Airways, the Middle East’s third-largest carrier, said it will probably halt further equity investments after a couple more deals, most likely targeting Asian traffic.
Etihad, which has minority stakes in Air Berlin Plc, Aer Lingus Group Plc, Air Seychelles Ltd. and Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd., must not get distracted running other carriers, Chief Executive Officer James Hogan said today in an interview.
“There isn’t a shopping list,” he said. “Maybe there are one or two more deals we’ll do here, but what I can’t do is something that bogs my management team down. We don’t control those airlines, so we have to be convinced of their strategy.”
Hogan has taken stakes in smaller operators in key markets while building up Etihad’s own network in a push to turn Abu Dhabi into a hub for inter-continental travel. The airline, which has 36 code-share accords, more than Gulf rivals Qatar Airways Ltd. and Emirates, is “continually looking” for long- term prospects and bringing them before the board, with India and China the “key regions of focus” he said in London.
Still, the company will avoid the path taken by Swissair, which “drowned” after buying up a dozen carriers, he said.
“I’m not stepping in to just help someone out,” the executive said. “I’m stepping where it will improve my top-line and bottom-line and improve theirs too. What is important is we all make money.”
Etihad is in due diligence with a “couple” of Indian airlines, Hogan said, while adding when questioned on whether a deal was likely: “Ask me in a couple of weeks.”
Jet Airways (India) Ltd. is in talks to sell a stake to Etihad as India’s largest listed carrier seeks funds following the lifting of a ban on airlines selling stakes to overseas operators, a government official said Nov. 26.
The disposal of a 24 percent holding may raise 16 billion rupees ($290 million), an official added on Dec. 3.
Hogan said that Etihad isn’t deterred by the possibility of government interference — something that could “destroy the market,” according to comments in April from Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA.
“We work in that part of the world and Willie doesn’t,” he said. “That’s our back yard. We wouldn’t enter into anything unless the governance was there in the shareholder agreement.”
There’s no question of Etihad taking a stake in Air France- KLM Group, the biggest European carrier, with which it has agreed to code-share, though a cost-and-revenue-sharing-alliance that might include Italy’s Alitalia SpA, in which the Paris- based company has a stake, “is on the agenda,” Hogan said.
“A relationship with Air France-KLM, Alitalia, combined with Air Berlin and Aer Lingus, that’s pretty powerful coming over the Gulf down to southeast Asia and Australasia,” he said,
Editors: Chris Jasper and Chad Thomas.
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