Not an alliance, insists Etihad

etihad-airwaysEtihad Airways broke new ground earlier this month with the launch of a group called Etihad Airways Partners, saying the initiative will promote cooperation between airlines without the “complexity and confusion” of alliances.

Announcing the move, Etihad CEO James Hogan said the benefits swing both ways for airlines and customers, with travellers to see more network choices and frequent flyer benefits, while airlines will share in “strong commercial partnerships” and efficiencies.

At first glance, the partnership looks much like an airline alliance, but Etihad stressed that it sits apart from groups such as Skyteam, Star Alliance and oneworld. “It would be wrong to describe Etihad Airways Partners as similar to the traditional alliances,” he said.

“We are a grouping of like-minded airlines working together to improve our competitive offer against those alliances and the major legacy carriers…the depth of our relationships allow us to go further than the long-established global alliances, from greater network alignment which maximises flight connectivity, to shared centres of excellence in cabin interior design, catering, IFE and customer service.”

Initially six carriers are part of the initiative – all of them existing equity partners of Etihad including airberlin, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Jet Airways and Darwin Airline as well as EY itself.

Other airlines are welcome to join – even if they are part of an existing alliance, the airline said. The initial Etihad Airways Partners members are unaligned, apart from airberlin which is in oneworld.

Etihad has long turned its back on alliances, and Hogan has been outspoken on the fact that the airline doesn’t want to be tied to a single group. He has also, in the past, branded alliances as “fractured”, instead favouring partnerships and equity investments.

He says the initiative will be more transparent for consumers by removing “complexity and confusion” and offering benefits such as standardised mileage and tier benefits across all partners, in addition to no blackout periods and priority services.

The question now remains – who will join the ranks?

Virgin Australia, in which Etihad holds a 22% stake (and where James Hogan is now a board member) told travelBulletin it has “no plans” to join at this stage, citing its “already strong” alliance partnership with the airline.

Star Alliance, Skyteam and oneworld will be battening down the hatches to keep their members in – but the Etihad Airways Partners initiative may provide a framework for increased cooperation with EY which already has 18 codeshare arrangements with other carriers.