sEtihad Airways
Image Credit: Etihad Airways

Dubai: Etihad Airways' CEO, Antonoaldo Neves, has said the airline "will do whatever it takes" to achieve its goal of doubling its fleet to 150 planes by 2030, especially amid the ongoing aircraft supply chain crisis causing delays in deliveries.

"We are buying new planes, we lease planes, we get used planes, we do everything. We are very flexible in our approach. We are very agile in trying to address these problems," Neves told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

Plane makers Boeing and Airbus have a huge backlog of aircraft still to be delivered. They have struggled to meet delivery schedules due to supply chain issues. American OEM Boeing has suffered production delays due to increased quality checks and regulator audits.

'Work harder for more planes'

Neves said if the delays impede Etihad's growth plans, he will "work harder to get new planes from the secondary market source with other airlines. We don't have a plan B. I discuss fleet every week. It is our expensive asset and is a scarce asset," he said.

We set a very aggressive target, and we are not in a position to revise our forecasts with the supply (of aircraft) we have

- Antonoaldo Neves

Neves' comments come on the back of Etihad's commitment to aggressive growth, including expanding its network, re-deploying A380s, and hiring more employees. The carrier has added flights to 15 new destinations in the past year.

The UAE's national carrier plans to transport 33 million passengers and grow its fleet to 150 aircraft by the decade's end. Currently, it operates 85 jets, including Airbus A380, A350, A320, and Boeing 787 and 777s. The flexible fleet management approach worked for the airline as it grew its size by 15 aircraft over the past year and a half. "We do whatever it takes to bring in planes," said the CEO.

"We set a very aggressive target, and we are not in a position to revise our forecasts with the supply (of aircraft) we have. Our load factors are 85-86 per cent, which is higher than most other carriers in the Middle East," he added. Moreover, he expects passenger demand to soar in the coming years.

Constraints to continue

That said, Neves said the industry is yet to get on an 'improvement curve' in terms of delivery dates. "I think it has worsened a little over the past six months in some aircraft segments. In other segments, it has stabilised on average. I think the industry will face severe aircraft constraints for the next two to three years," explained Neves.

The airline chief also said even if the OEMs iron out their issues, he would not be surprised if challenges persist for the next decade.

"We will have a challenge in terms of supply and demand balance. If some markets contract a lot, then airlines cancel or delay orders. Then you have planes available. But from the demand side, I see only positive signs," he said.

Will Etihad announce IPO?
Commenting on Etihad's potential IPO plans, Neves stated it remains a 'shareholder decision' and is not an 'immediate focus for Etihad'.

"Our job is to ensure the company is ready to IPO whenever the shareholder believes the time is right. We are working very hard on our balance sheet to strengthen the profit and loss sides. We are going to be ready whenever it happens," said Neves.

Best ever first quarter

The Abu Dhabi Development Holding Company (ADQ) owned airline will post its first-quarter results sometime next week. Neves said, "It was our best-ever first quarter. We made a profit. Our revenue expanded a lot." The airline returned to profit in 2022 and 2023 after significant losses since 2016.

The airline carried 14 million passengers in 2023, 40 per cent higher than its 2022 numbers. "We did 40 per cent more passengers. If you take the top 30 airlines in the world and see the Q1 over Q1 results… for an airline our size, I am sure 40 (per cent) is a lot," said Neves.

He attributed the growth surge to the airline's employees, aggressive network expansion, flexible fleet strategy, hyper-competitive airfares on select routes, and strong passenger demand. "We are hiring 200 pilots every year. Over the past two years, we hired 2,000 flight attendants. So, people make a huge difference. The strategy is working… and moving to the new terminal (at Zayed International Airport) has also helped," he added.

Etihad's routes
From a point-to-point perspective, the carrier has a well-defined geographical focus and keen interest in the Gulf region, the Middle East, India, the Sub-continent, and South East Asia. "From a connecting perspective, we can command some sort of advantage to Europe and the United States East Coast," he said.