As part of the overhaul, the airline plans to introduce the jumbo Airbus A380 aircraft on its Sydney and Melbourne routes and launch nonstop flights between Perth and Abu Dhabi.
Etihad will also operate additional flights from Melbourne and Brisbane to the UAE capital and construct premium lounges in the Sydney and Melbourne airports from 2014.
The new plans were announced by Etihad president and CEO James Hogan during the CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit in Sydney.
Hogan said Australia was a key and long-term market for the airline.
He also confirmed that Etihad was moving to increase its equity in Virgin Australia, following recent approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board to increase from a 10 per cent shareholding to 19.9 per cent.
“Virgin Australia is a key member of our ever-expanding airline equity alliance, and Etihad Airways is an active and long-term investor in Virgin,” Hogan said. “We have a significant presence in Australia, with 28 weekly departures, annual expenditure of over $100 million, direct employment of 106 staff and engagement of 415 local contractors,” he said.
“The Virgin Australia partnership enables us to connect with 45 destinations in Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia, while we reciprocate by providing connections via our Abu Dhabi hub to a wide range of destinations in Europe, UK, Ireland and Africa.”
Etihad’s equity alliance – an alternative to legacy airline alliances – now has five members, following a deal last week to buy 49 per cent of Serbia’s national airline, JAT, now rebranded Air Serbia, and a five-year management contract to run it.
The ambitious UAE carrier is also awaiting regulatory approval for investment in a sixth airline, India’s Jet Airways.
“There is ample evidence to show that the traditional airline model and legacy airline alliances are no longer relevant to today’s operating environment and that progress for the industry is unlikely without radical change,” said Hogan.
“A sustainable future for global aviation relies on a bold vision and a willingness to break with tradition and past practices.”