By Fakhri al-Arashi
Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, celebrated its inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi to Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, on September 1st, 2013. A delegation of high-level Yemeni officials, including Minister of Transport Waed Bathib, Minister of Tourism Dr. Qasim Sallam, Chairman of Universal Group Mr. Alwan al-Shaibani (Universal is the sole agent of Etihad in Yemen), Etihad General Manager in Yemen Mr. Yahya Ahmed Hussein, representatives from the Civil Aviation Authority, security and airport officials and media figures received the maiden flight upon its arrival at Sana’a International.
Mr. Khaled El Mehairbi, Etihad Airways’ Senior Vice President for Government and Aero-political Affairs, led the airline’s delegation, which included Mr. Hassan al-Hammadi, Senior Vice President of Executive Affairs and Corporate Security, and Ali Murtada, Vice President of Sales for the Middle East, Levant and Africa.
Speeches were given by Mr. Khaled El Mehairbi and Mr. Waed Bathib, Minister of Transport, who focused on the market potential of both Etihad Airways and Yemen.
“We are [one people], separated in two countries, and we hope this new route will be the beginning of a relationship that will result in further fruitful investments,” said Mr. Batheeb at the airport’s VIP terminal. The economy of Yemen, the poorest nation in the Middle East, could grow 4.4 per cent this year, up from 0.1 per cent last year, according to IMF estimates.
Minister Batheeb, called on UAE companies to participate in a US$500 million tender next month that would revamp the country’s airport infrastructure and improve services and operations management.
Yemen’s government is undergoing an expansion of its airports in Sana’a and Aden, amid ambitious plans to boost tourism revenues to the country. The current project at Sana’a’s airport will introduce 12 new air bridges, four halls, and facilities to handle 18 aircraft at the same time, said the transport minister, Waed Batheeb.
Speaking on the occasion, James Hogan, Etihad Airways President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “The ancestral, cultural and business ties between these two countries are significant, and we celebrate this new link between these two capitals. The launch of direct services to Sana’a is consistent with our strategy of adding depth and scale to our network and targeting areas of growth in emerging markets. I am confident this new service will further facilitate Yemen’s economic development and encourage trade and investment in the capital.” The launch was celebrated with a reception followed by a banquet attended by the UAE Red Crescent bureau based in Yemen, members of the travel trade, and a media delegation from the UAE.
Mr. Hussein, Etihad General Manager in Yemen said the market value in Yemen is promising. The first inaugural flight, as well as the flights on the 3rd, 5th and 7th of September is almost full and the economy seats are overbooked.
Etihad’s Yemen office team consists of 15 members working between the airport, commercial, and sales offices. “The demand for booking and sales looks good for the time being, and we may [be flying] daily by next year,” said Hussein. “We may change the flying schedule to make it more convenient for passengers.”
More than 90,000 Yemeni nationals live in the UAE and the country is Yemen’s largest regional trading partner, with annual trade valued at over US$2 billion, including US$1.6 billion in UAE exports. Overall, the UAE accounts for almost 20 per cent of Yemen’s total imports. Sana’a is Etihad Airways’ latest destination on the Arabian Peninsula, joining Bahrain, Dammam, Doha, Jeddah, Kuwait, Muscat and Riyadh. The airline now serves the Yemeni capital four times a week from Abu Dhabi with an Airbus A320 aircraft equipped with 16 Pearl Business Class seats and 120 seats in Coral Economy Class. ”The timing of the new service offers air travellers convenient onward connections via Abu Dhabi to a significant number of other key destinations across the airline’s global network, particularly across the GCC, the Middle East, Australia, and key European and North American destinations,” Mr. Hogan said.