Sunday, November 13, 2011

Etihad Airways Eighth Anniversary

This is not meant to be a chronological history of the airline, but my impressions as someone who was involved with the starting of the airline.

Etihad Airways flew on 5 November 2003 from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain and then on 12 November flew its frst commercial flight to Beirut. At the time the airline had Beirut, Damascus and Amman as destinations. Etihad Airways has expanded at a relatively faster rate than its competitors Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways. The airline started with 2 Airbus A330s leased from TAM and an A340 leased from Boeing to a fleet of 63 aircraft (100 on order) serving 63 destinations in 43 countries and a cargo operation serving 14 destinations.

Very few people know how Etihad Airways started. The Amiri decree forming Etihad Airways was issued in July 2003, also appointing HE Dr. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saif Al Nahyan as the first Chairman of the airline. He also was the Chairman of GAMCO now ADAT.

GAMCO's commercial, legal, contracts and finance resources were mobilized to set up the initial business plan and proceed with the AOC. Two aircraft were leased from TAM and then one A340 ex Singapore Airlines from Boeing. An MRO team of engineers and technical personnel had to become the start up team for the airline. A building slated to be the training center became the head office of the airline and the team handled functions like recruitment, purchasing of catering and commercial  equipment. At the time Air Arabia was starting and GAMCO was called upon to provide full maintenance and engineering support for it and Etihad which was not a problem for an MRO. One challenge was to set up airline functions like scheduling and maintenance control from scratch. GAMCO had extensive experience performing these functions for Gulf Air using GF's facilities, eventually that function was tuned over to the airline.

The airline was set up between July and November 2003 with aircraft leased and delivered and all commercial and cabin equipment provided. One challenge was the IFE system which was from Rockwell Collins a system that was not very popular in the region. Collins was called on to provide support and ensure a greater than 95% dispatch reliability of the system. A task that they performed efficiently.

Another challenge, that I was personally involved with, was providing logistics support for the A330s and the A340 at short notice. A support package was prepared and acquired from AJ Walter Aviation. The agreement was made during the 2003 Dubai Air Show.

Etihad Airways is an airline that a lot of us are proud to have been associated with it and believed in the vision that now is a world class airline spanning the globe.

Finally, everyone is dazzled with the performance of the airline that they all forget that it all began in an MRO by a bunch of engineers and technical people.

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