Struggling Etihad Doubles Investment in Struggling Jet Airways

Jan 15, 2019

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Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad Airways, which has been cutting costs in an effort to keep its balance sheets afloat, is reportedly buying a larger stake in another faltering airline, India’s Jet Airways.

Etihad is doubling its investment in Mumbai-based Jet Airways from a 24% stake up to a 49% holding, local media reports said on Monday. Jet Airways is India’s largest full-service carrier, but it hasn’t posted a profit in nine of the last 11 fiscal years, Bloomberg reports.

It’s not clear if Etihad’s larger stake will be enough to save struggling Jet Airways. The Indian carrier has been on the precipice of financial ruin for quite some time now as well. In 2018, the airline was in at least $1.2 billion USD in debt, and reportedly told its employees that drastic measures were needed in order to keep the airline running — mainly cost-cutting measures like slashing payroll and simplifying its fleet. And a new report says the carrier is missing payments on some of its leased aircraft, and its leasing firms are threatening to take back their planes.

It’s not the first time Etihad has eagerly shoveled a pile of cash on board a sinking airline. The Gulf carrier invested 49% in bankrupt Italian flag carrier Alitalia in 2014 and a 29% percent stake in now-defunct Air Berlin in 2012. Etihad is actually facing legal action from Air Berlin’s insolvency administrator, who claims that Etihad did not meet its financial obligations when it withdrew funding from the German carrier, forcing it to fold. Air Berlin is seeking $2.26 billion USD in damages, Reuters reports.

According to The Financial Times, the seemingly bad investments are all “part of a broader strategy of global expansion based on buying minority stakes in often troubled airlines to drive traffic to Etihad’s Abu Dhabi hub.” But that investment strategy seems to have been riskier than Etihad anticipated, as it’s financial health is also struggling.

The airline has lost $3.5 billion over two years, according to Bloomberg. Recently it has been trying to trim costs wherever it can. Last October, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier scrapped one of its two daily A380 frequencies to JFK. That is in addition to the airline cutting premium offerings, temporarily suspending US routes and even permanently canceling some (San Francisco and Dallas). And on Jan. 11, Etihad canceled an order for 10 Airbus A320neos. By the end of January, Skift reports, it’s also cutting 50 pilot jobs, about 2.4% of its total flight crew.

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