Etihad Airways, the national flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on October 2 launched daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City in an effort to facilitate growing trade and investment partnerships between Vietnam and the UAE.

Peter Baumgartner, chief commercial officer of Etihad Airways, spoke to Vietnam Investment Review about the opening of the new route.

* Etihad Airways is not the first airline from the Middle East to provide flights to Vietnam. Previously Qatar Airways and Emirates launched routes of their own. So what has taken Etihad Airways so long to get in on the act?

Yes, we are still a young airline, but think of what we have achieved over the last ten years. This is the fastest growing airline in the global aviation industry.

No currently existing airline has grown as fast in the first ten years as we have done. So if you go through the list of destinations we’ve launched in the first ten years, these are all first priority destinations.

* What are your expectations from the Vietnamese market?

All underlying factors indicate that this route will be a huge success, both for passengers and cargo. You know the necessity for Vietnam to be connected to the markets beyond Abu Dhabi that we optimally serve. With a great airport and efficient connectivity, the investment from Abu Dhabi to airport infrastructure has been massive. As we speak capacity extension of our current infrastructure is going on. It’s already state of the art today. It will be extended in a couple of months, and in 2017 a brand new mega hub, which is currently in the middle of construction, will be available for us to serve our requirements for accelerated growth.

An efficient hub is good for growth and all markets will benefit from the efficiency that it provides. Abu Dhabi’s service will be relevant for various perspectives in Vietnam. Don’t forget the very strong bilateral ties between the two countries and think about how the governments have ramped up their relationships. The investment arm of Abu Dhabi in your country, is still at the beginning of a strong, long-lasting relationship.

We are the national airline of the UAE linking the capital of Abu Dhabi with important strategic destinations on the global map. Vietnam is one of those important destinations for the UAE, so we are serving that requirement.

* But isn’t it inevitable that you will have to compete seriously with other airlines from the Middle East which are servicing Vietnam?

Over the past ten years, we have faced competition with other airlines. When you look at the global map, geographically, the Middle East is an ideal position to be an international hub, specifically through airport infrastructure. With modern technology we can fly to every single point on the global map. We have been investing in our fleet to provide high frequency flights to serve primary and secondary airports. This makes us a very efficient airline to serve the very specific requirements of markets such as Vietnam.

Don’t forget the exponential growth in bilateral trade between our two countries. Exports from Vietnam to the UAE in 2012 reached 2 billion USD, marking growth of 82 percent from 2011. And it is forecasted to reach 4 billion USD by the end of this year. That is an opportunity for us to grow and become a bridge between Vietnam and Abu Dhabi. We can also support capital investment from Abu Dhabi into Vietnam. Investment from Abu Dhabi to Vietnam is still in the very early stages of long-lasting investment story and partnership. So the connection between Abu Dhabi and Ho Chi Minh City will meet the demands of the two nations very well.

* Etihad Airways has co-operated with Vietnam Airlines since 2011 via codeshares which are extremely convenient for travellers. Will this relationship change following your new daily direct flights to Vietnam?

In 2011, we had a strong partnership with Vietnam Airlines, which was ideal for our entrance into the market. The codeshare partnership is good, but the underlying indicators and potential of the market give us confidence that this is the right time for us to fly ourselves.

But that does not mean the relationship with Vietnam Airlines will end. We want to increase codeshare co-operation as we are providing flights beyond Ho Chi Minh City to other primary and secondary airports in the country through Vietnam Airlines’ network. This partnership is still at the very beginning and we are delighted to be working with Vietnam Airlines for mutual success.-VNA