Following completion of the minority investment, which is subject to regulatory approval, Darwin Airline will rebrand its operations as Etihad Regional and align its network to connect passengers from secondary European markets onto the main networks of Etihad Airways and its equity alliance partners.
Etihad Airways will also launch daily services on June 1, 2014 from Abu Dhabi to Zurich, which will become one of Darwin Airline’s main operating hubs.
James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “This is a step-change for Etihad Airways. With our new partner Darwin Airline, we are creating a unique approach to network development for global airlines.
“European travellers will now be able to connect from a far, far wider range of European towns and cities on Etihad-branded aircraft, through Abu Dhabi to our destinations worldwide.
“We are also linking the new Etihad Regional network into the key hubs of our equity alliance partners, bringing benefits to the customers of airberlin and Air Serbia.
“This is not just a great new offer for European travellers. It is also great news for Darwin Airline, which will see increased investment, greater sales and marketing opportunities, and the chance to benefit from Etihad Airways’ global network.”
Mr Hogan said the new approach could be extended to other markets over time.
Darwin Airline is headquartered in Lugano, Switzerland, with its major hub in Geneva. It currently offers scheduled flights to 21 destinations in Europe using a fleet of 10 50-seat Saab 2000 turboprop aircraft.
Subject to regulatory approvals, Etihad Airways will invest in Darwin Airline through the acquisition of 33.3 per cent of an enlarged share capital. Darwin Airline, which will continue to focus on secondary markets, will become the seventh member of the Etihad Airways equity airline alliance, the fourth partner in Europe, and the first to operate using a new sub-brand called ‘Etihad Regional’.
The investment will give Etihad Airways access to regional markets in Europe, and enable a major expansion of Darwin Airline’s operations.
The new ‘Etihad Regional’ logo will be displayed prominently on each side of the fuselage of the Darwin Airline aircraft, while the rear of the plane will carry the words “Operated by Darwin Airline”, and the Darwin Airline’s present logo, as well as continuing to proudly display the Swiss flag. All flights will continue to be operated under the Darwin Airline designator code.
By mid-2014, Darwin Airline will add 21 new routes and 18 new destinations. Its network will then include six European gateways served by Etihad Airways – Geneva, Amsterdam , Paris , Düsseldorf, Belgrade and, commencing in June, Zurich.
Darwin Airline will be able to connect to the network of airberlin, Etihad Airways’ equity partner, through new and existing routes to Berlin , Düsseldorf and Zurich. Berlin and Düsseldorf provide excellent connections to the US with airberlin.
Darwin Airline will also be able to connect to the network of Air Serbia, through its hub at Belgrade.
Subject to regulatory approval, Etihad Airways, airberlin and Air Serbia will codeshare on Darwin Airline routes, while Darwin Airline will codeshare on Etihad Airways, airberlin and Air Serbia flights from a range of European gateways. This will provide deeper access to Europe for the three larger carriers and significant new international connectivity and feeder traffic for Darwin Airline.
In April 2014, Darwin Airline will launch nine new routes, from Dusseldorf to Berlin, Cambridge and London City; from Berlin to Poznan and Wroclaw; from Geneva to Toulouse; from Zurich to Leipzig; and from Rome to Tirana and Zagreb.
In May 2014, it will start flights from from Zurich to Geneva, Florence and Turin; and from Geneva to Belgrade.
In June 2014, it will launch flights from Zurich to Linz, Graz, Verona and Lyon; and from Geneva to Bordeaux, Marseille, Nantes and Verona.
In addition to network and efficiency benefits, Darwin Airline will adopt the Etihad Guest loyalty program.
Etihad Airways’ minority shareholdings include 29 per cent of airberlin, 40 per cent of Air Seychelles, 19.9 per cent of Virgin Australia and 3 per cent of Aer Lingus. Etihad Airways has also received regulatory approval to acquire 24 per cent of India’s Jet Airways, and from January 2014, will acquire 49 per cent of Air Serbia.