How do you say “slot squatting” in Arabic? Etihad Airways plans a pair of additional flights to Heathrow from its Abu Dhabi home starting in the next two months. The move protects slots it collected from Jet Airways earlier this month, shortly before the latter halted operations. The flights will operate on Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, significantly smaller than the A380s currently on the schedule. But it is also the best plane available in the carrier’s fleet to serve the route.
On 25 May 2019 an additional afternoon flight, EY25, will begin operations just 50 minutes earlier than the existing afternoon A380 service. On 23 June 2019 EY9 adds to the schedule as an overnight flight northbound. Similar to the afternoon flight this service is timed just 40 minutes earlier than the existing operation. The new flights are reasonably well timed for connections to India and other destinations in the sub-continent or Middle East region, though not so much that they will likely affect bookings relative to the existing flights they now sit adjacent to.
Etihad’s financial stability has been called into question repeatedly for more than a year now. The carrier is overshadowed by its Dubai-based neighbor and, even with a grand new terminal opening, is struggling to grow and attract new passengers in a financially viable manner. It will “upgrade” the cabin on most of its A320 fleet this summer, removing the in-seat entertainment system and increasing seat count. It also cancelled orders for 61 new twin-aisle jets earlier this year following $3.5bn in losses over the past two years.
Efforts by the to “progress its transformation and adjust to its new operating model” including “efficient rationalization of its fleet” do not align with these new flight operations. Still, operating the flights today should prove a smarter fiscal move than giving up the slots entirely.
By transferring the slots to Etihad before halting operations the two carriers ensured that control of the valuable resources would remain in their possession. Heathrow operates under a relatively strict “use or lose” policy with respect to the coveted landing rights and failure of the airline or failure to operate consistently would see them revert to the airport for reassignment elsewhere. It is far from ideal, but neither was Jet Airways halting operations.
The third slot pair from Jet Airways finds its way to Air Serbia for an additional daily flight from Belgrade. Air Serbia is partially owned by Etihad and presents a much less expensive way to hold the slot than flying a 7.5 hour segment on a twin-aisle jet and diluting already suffering yields.