Etihad Airways (EY, Abu Dhabi International) aims to "double its fleet to 150 aircraft" enabling it to triple its passenger capacity to 30 million by the end of the decade, Chief Executive Officer Antonoaldo Neves has told Reuters.

This follows a shift in strategy to focus on medium to long-haul destinations, moving away from operating ultra-long-haul flights where competition is intense and profitability challenging, Neves said. The plan is to connect China, Southeast Asia, India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to Europe and the US East Coast.

"Our mandate is very clear. We don't fly to places where we don't make money," he said.

Last October, Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADQ took full control of the airline, appointing Neves who had previously led a turnaround at TAP Air Portugal (TP, Lisbon). The UAE airline wrapped up a five-year turnaround plan and signalled renewed aspirations to become a leading global airline after it scaled back following the impact of Covid-19. At the end of 2021, Etihad had placed its previous fleet plans on hold and announced it would rebuild as a medium-sized carrier with smaller widebody B787s once Covid-19 eased. However, in July 2022, the airline announced a record-breaking first-half profitability of USD296 million following increased passenger travel demand.

Buoyed by these results, in an interview in August 2022, former CEO Tony Douglas told ch-aviation Etihad again planned to grow the proportion of widebody aircraft in its fleet, building it around the B787-9 and A350-1000 but retaining flexibility as the market changed.

According to the ch-aviation fleets module, Etihad in fact plans to more than double its fleet to 194 aircraft, but in his interview with ch-aviation, Douglas said Etihad had learned from its past mistakes and planned to grow "modestly and profitably" with the new widebodies rather than making the wrong choices in expanding too fast.

The fleet currently comprises 93 aircraft, with a further 99 to be delivered. Of these, 30 are B787-9s with 11 more on order; nine B787-10s with 21 more on order from Boeing (BOE, Washington National); and five A350-1000 with 15 more of the type to be delivered from Airbus (AIB, Toulouse Blagnac). It also has on order twenty A321-200Ns, seven A350Fs, eight B777-8s, and seventeen B777-9s. The existing fleet also includes fifteen A320-200s, nine A321-200s, three A330-200s, ten A380-800s, five B777-200Fs, and seven B777-300ERs,

On April 27, Neves told Reuters in an interview in Delhi that India is one of Etihad's top three priority markets but did not disclose the top two. Air travel has recovered to pre-Covid-19 levels in India and international traffic gathers pace as the country's economy grows. Etihad, which flies to Delhi International and Mumbai International plans to launch flights to six other Indian cities, Neves said, but did not name them.

Etihad's push into India also comes as Air India (AI, Delhi International) maps out aggressive expansion with non-stop flights to Europe and the US and budget carrier IndiGo Airlines (6E, Delhi International) grows its international network through its codeshare deal with Turkish Airlines (TK, Istanbul Airport). Neves said the competition did not worry him, and there was space for everyone in the world's fastest-growing aviation market.

However, he said Etihad has about 10,000 weekly seats of unused flying rights between India and Abu Dhabi, which puts it in a better position compared with rivals clamouring for more access amid the Indian government's pushback to open its skies further. The Indian government asserts that Indian carriers must reach 80% of capacity on relevant country or city pairs before India will start allowing foreign airlines to put additional seats into the local market.

Etihad's growth will also be organic, Neves said. While pursuing more codeshare and interline agreements, it will not look at mergers or equity partnerships as it did during the James Hogan era. During his administration, Etihad once held a 24% stake in India's Jet Airways (JAI, Mumbai International) as part of an equity alliance strategy of acquiring strategic stakes in moribund airlines to drive traffic through Abu Dhabi, also including Alitalia, Air Berlin (1991), Air Seychelles, Darwin Airline, Virgin Australia, and Air Serbia. This strategy backfired, with investments made in some airlines, including Jet Airways, going wrong. The Indian carrier ceased operations in April 2019 and was sold during a restructuring process, with Etihad losing its stake and the USD325 million it paid for it.