20 Years Since The First Etihad Flight from Abu Dhabi

20 Years Since The First Etihad Flight from Abu Dhabi
Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

Today marks 20 years since the first commercial flight from Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad Airways. Let’s take a look back at their history as well as their future!

The carrier started out in the early 2000’s and has had it’s challenges along the way, but has come out the other side thriving.

Without further ado, let’s get into it…

Brief Introduction to Etihad Airways’ Start from Abu Dhabi…

20 Years Since The First Etihad Flight from Abu Dhabi
Photo Credit: James Field/AviationSource

Etihad Airways was founded back in July 2003 following a Royal Amiri Decree by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who wanted an airline for Abu Dhabi.

Of course, this comes following the already-established Emirates who had been operating from Dubai.

A family member to Al Nahyan, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saif, founded the airline with an initial AED500m founding investment to get the airline to where it needed to be.

On November 5, 2003, to celebrate the airline’s upcoming launch, a ceremonial flight from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain was operated, before launching the first commercial flight to Beirut, Lebanon on November 12.

Not long after their launch, Etihad Airways was keen to get growth plans underway by ordering six Boeing 777-200LRs and 24 Airbus aircraft, of which 10 were A380s, for a list price of $8bn.

By June 2008 at the Farnborough Air Show, another order was made for 35 Boeing 787s and 10 777s, as well as more via options.

The Last 10 Years of Struggle?

20 Years Since The First Etihad Flight from Abu Dhabi
Photo Credit: James Field/AviationSource

Over the last 10 of the 20 years that Etihad Airways has been in commercial operations, things hadn’t gone very smoothly for the Abu Dhabi-based carrier.

In 2011, the carrier had taken a 29.21% stake in Air Berlin, a 24% stake in Jet Airways in April 2013, as well as a 49% stake in Alitalia in 2014.

All three carriers ended up filing for bankruptcy throughout the decade due to Etihad withdrawing funding because of their own losses, which by 2016, amounted to around $1.873bn.

This resulted in the removal of CEO James Hogan and CFO James Rigney. From there, that is when the positive changes began.

Financial conservatism took place at the airline to reduce losses, which was reduced to $1.57bn by 2017, but more work was needed on this front.

By February 2019, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier announced the cancellation of 44 Airbus A350 Family aircraft and 19 of the 24 Boeing 777Xs that they had on order.

That meant that since 2016, the airline had lost over $5.62bn. However, they were able to reduce losses to $870m by 2019.

In May of 2021, Etihad also sold 40% of it’s stake in Air Seychelles back to the government.


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COVID Caused Another Problem for Etihad…

20 Years Since The First Etihad Flight from Abu Dhabi
Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

Just as things were on the up, the COVID-19 pandemic came along and caused even more financial distress for the Abu Dhabi-based carrier.

Losses in 2020 increased back up to $1.7bn, but was then able to be reduced to $476m in 2021, through the layoffs of 1,000 cabin crew and pilots from Etihad Airways.

However, as restrictions began to lift around the world, the airline began to experience the benefits of this once again.

In July 2022, they managed to break through a profit in the first half of that year to $296 million, and since then, the growth plans have been off the charts.

The Abu Dhabi-based Carrier Is Back on the Up…

Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

Things are looking very much on the up for Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad Airways, with the following things happening since the beginning of 2022, which we have covered here at AviationSource. And it’s a big list:

What remains clear is that despite their struggles, Etihad Airways has managed to bounce itself back as a prominent carrier within the Middle East.

The aforementioned things that they have done since the beginning of 2022 is testament to their overall turnaround, which is resulting in strong growth from their base in Abu Dhabi.

All eyes will be on how the next 20 years will go for the airline, and it is expected to be very positive in manner, that’s for sure.

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By James Field - Editor in Chief 7 Min Read
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