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In new strategy Etihad invests in Darwin Airlines, re-brands it Etihad Regional

by Devesh Agarwal

Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, today announced what it calls a ‘step-change in global aviation’ with the launch of its first branded regional operation, after taking a 33.3 per cent stake in Swiss carrier Darwin Airline.

(Left to right) James Rigney, Etihad Airways’ Chief Financial Officer; Maurizio Merlo, Chief Executive Officer of Darwin Airline; James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer; Emilio Martinenghi, President of Darwin Airline, celebrate the launch of Etihad Regional at the Dubai Air Show 2013.

Following completion of the minority investment, which is subject to regulatory approval, Darwin Airline will rebrand its operations as Etihad Regional and align its network to connect passengers from secondary European markets onto the main networks of Etihad Airways and its equity alliance partners in Europe, airberlin and Air Serbia.

Part of the strategy will see Etihad Airways launching daily services on June 1, 2014 from Abu Dhabi to Zurich, which will become one of Darwin Airline’s main operating hubs. The flight will depart Abu Dhabi at 2am and arrive early morning in to Zurich, enabling connections on to Regional’s flights.

James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer, said

“This is a step-change for Etihad Airways. With our new partner Darwin Airline, we are creating a unique approach to network development for global airlines. European travellers will now be able to connect from a far, far wider range of European towns and cities on Etihad-branded aircraft, through Abu Dhabi to our destinations worldwide. We are also linking the new Etihad Regional network into the key hubs of our equity alliance partners, bringing benefits to the customers of airberlin and Air Serbia. This is not just a great new offer for European travellers. It is also great news for Darwin Airline, which will see increased investment, greater sales and marketing opportunities, and the chance to benefit from Etihad Airways’ global network.”

Darwin Airlines Saab 2000 in current livery. Photo Devesh Agarwal

Darwin Airline is headquartered in Lugano, Switzerland, with its major hub in Geneva, to which Etihad already operates flights. Darwin currently offers scheduled flights to 21 destinations in Europe using a fleet of 10 50-seat Saab 2000 turboprop aircraft. Its flights operate under the IATA designator code 0D, which will continue past the re-branding.

After the 33% stake investment by Etihad, Darwin Airline will become he seventh member of the Etihad Airways equity airline alliance. Etihad Airways has minority shareholdings of 29% in airberlin, 40% in Air Seychelles, 19.9% in Virgin Australia and 3% in Aer Lingus. Etihad has received approval to acquire 24 per cent of India’s Jet Airways, and from January 2014, will acquire 49 per cent of Air Serbia.

Darwin, will continue to focus on secondary markets, and become the first airline to operate using a new sub-brand called ‘Etihad Regional’. Darwin Airline will also adopt the Etihad Guest frequent flier program.

The investment will give Etihad Airways access to regional markets in Europe, and enable a major expansion of Darwin Airline’s operations.

Darwin Airlines Saab 2000 in new Etihad Regional livery. CGI.

Darwin’s fleet will be re-painted in the new ‘Etihad Regional’ livery which sees the logo displayed prominently on each side of the fuselage of the aircraft, while the rear of the plane will carry the words “Operated by Darwin Airline”, and the Darwin Airline’s present logo. The Swiss flag will be displayed on the dorsal tail fin, though the E of the Etihad logo will take prominence on the tail.

By mid-2014, Darwin Airline will add 21 new routes and 18 new destinations. Its network will then include six European gateways served by Etihad Airways – Geneva, Amsterdam, Paris, Düsseldorf, Belgrade and, commencing in June, Zurich.

Darwin Airline will be able to connect to the network of airberlin, Etihad Airways’ equity partner, through new and existing routes to Berlin, Düsseldorf and Zurich. Berlin and Düsseldorf provide excellent connections to the United States with airberlin.

Darwin Airline will also be able to connect to the network of Air Serbia, through its hub at Belgrade.
Subject to regulatory approval, Etihad Airways, airberlin and Air Serbia will codeshare on Darwin Airline routes, while Darwin Airline will codeshare on Etihad Airways, airberlin and Air Serbia flights from a range of European gateways. This will provide deeper access to Europe for the three larger carriers and significant new international connectivity and feeder traffic for Darwin Airline.

Maurizio Merlo, Chief Executive Officer of Darwin Airline, believes the Etihad Airways partnership will enable Darwin Airline to build upon its success to date and enjoy significant growth, not only by providing a larger network for customers within Europe but also greater access to Europe for travellers from around the world.

Darwin Airline’s expanded network, to be implemented in stages from April 2014, will provide significant new opportunities for travellers to fly between major regional centres in Europe and the global network of Etihad Airways, via its hub in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE.

  • In April 2014, Darwin Airline will launch nine new routes, from Dusseldorf to Berlin, Cambridge and London City; from Berlin to Poznan and Wroclaw; from Geneva to Toulouse; from Zurich to Leipzig; and from Rome to Tirana and Zagreb.
  • In May 2014, it will start flights from from Zurich to Geneva, Florence and Turin; and from Geneva to Belgrade.
  • In June 2014, it will launch flights from Zurich to Linz, Graz, Verona and Lyon; and from Geneva to Bordeaux, Marseille, Nantes and Verona.

What are your thoughts on this new strategy by Etihad? Post a comment.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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