Despite its greater wealth, the UAE capital seemed unsure of how to market itself next to the glitter of Dubai. In Emirates Airline, Dubai had the perfect flag carrier for its ambitions to be the region’s dominant business and aviation hub.
In recent times, Abu Dhabi has emerged with a series of bold projects to take back the initiative. The deals announced by Etihad in July for 200 aircraft put the seal on that resurgence and will bring the Abu Dhabi airline firmly up alongside its more established rivals from Dubai and Qatar.
The airline’s chief executive officer (CEO), James Hogan, is justifiably proud of the speed at which Etihad has grown since its launch in 2003, although it is fair to say that only expansion on this scale would suffice in the current market if the airline is to compete at the highest level.
But despite the rhetoric in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar, there are many industry observers who believe that three major aviation hubs and three massive airlines on each others’ doorsteps will not be sustainable in the long term.
Having spent four years as CEO of Gulf Air, Hogan knows only too well that Middle East airlines can go down as well as up, and when they start to struggle they can quickly be left behind.
With its recent order from Boeing and Airbus, Etihad has ensured its place in the top tier of Gulf aviation for years to come. More broadly, it is also leading Abu Dhabi’s challenge in the wider battle to be the region’s dominant travel hub, tourist destination and economic power.