Dubai: Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, yesterday began scheduled services between its hub in Abu Dhabi and Chengdu in southwest China.

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, will be served by four non-stop services per week.

The chief executive Officer of Etihad Airways, James Hogan, said the new route had special significance as the first and only direct flight between Sichuan province and the UAE.

"This is a day of cele-bration for the airline and the communities at both ends of the route. The new services will open convenient new gateways for travel to and from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and stimulate growth of trade between the UAE and China, already the Emirates' third largest trading partner."

Demand forecast

Hogan said forecast demand from the passenger and cargo sectors was strong and the airline expected to go daily when commercially viable.

"The Chengdu Mun-icipal Government and airport authorities have been great supporters and we look forward to working together to make the route a commercial success."

The Mayor of Chengdu, Honglin Ge, said: "The commencement of Etihad Airways services to Chengdu is an exciting event for the people of Chengdu and we are delighted to welcome them joining us to promote the development of an air transport hub in Chengdu."

Etihad Airways will operate a two-class Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the sector with 22 Pearl Business class and 240 Coral Economy class seats.

Award winner

Etihad Airways has been honoured for its commitment to the environment at China's 2011 Top Travel magazine awards.

The Environmental Contribution of the Year Award is bestowed annually on travel companies that demonstrate global leadership in corporate social responsibility. The honour was for the airline's efforts in saving washing water and cleaning fluids, and for an improvement in fuel efficiency from reduced aircraft drag.

The CEO of Etihad Airways, James Hogan, said the airline was delighted to win the award.