Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways has announced a major codeshare agreement with Saudia Airlines – the government-controlled Saudi Arabian flag carrier. At a signing ceremony held in Jeddah yesterday, Tony Douglas the chief executive of Etihad Airways Group shook hands with Saleh bin Naser Al-Jasser, the director general of Saudia to finalise the extensive codesharing agreement on 41 routes between the two airlines.
In addition, Etihad’s maintenance division has been signed up to provide select services for Saudia’s fleet in Abu Dhabi, while talks to offer reciprocal ‘earn and burn’ benefits between Saudia’s Alfursan frequent flyer programme and Etihad Guest are being finalized. On top of that, there’s even talk of offering combined cargo services.
“The ties shared between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the deepest that the two nations have,” explained Douglas – a British born businessman who previously served as the chief executive of Abu Dhabi airport before moving over to Etihad.
It’s no secret that the UAE has a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia – The Emirati national government has been resolute in supporting the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar, while the UAE’s defence forces have also supported Saudi’s proxy war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is the dominant player in the region and the UAE has stood shoulder to shoulder with its ally.
Meanwhile, the UAE has also gone along with Saudi Arabia’s version of events into the Khashoggi Affair – state media recently called the columnists death an “unfortunate” incident whilst failing to mention any of the details that have been alleged by Turkish officials.
With international condemnation raining down on Saudia Arabia and Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan set to announce explosive new details about Khashoggi’s death in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate, could Etihad’s agreement with Saudia come at a worse time?
Of course, talks between Etihad and Saudia would no doubt have been going on for some months – at a time when international business leaders were cosying up to Saudi Arabia and the country was even preparing for a major business summit (the so-called Davos in the desert).
Even so, it’s interesting to see the direction in which Etihad is now headed. The airline is undergoing a major transformation programme after making huge losses the last few years. The airline has already scaled back its international operations and there’s been talk of it becoming much more of a regional player which serves the needs of Emirati nationals – rather than trying to emulate the super-connector airlines like Emirates and Qatar Airways.
This latest tie-up with Saudia would seem to reinforce that vision for a new-look Etihad. It will be certainly be very interesting to see what other developments come about over the next 12-months.