By ADAM SCHRECKAssociated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Etihad Airways, the fast expanding Abu Dhabi carrier, said Wednesday its strategy of partnering with overseas airlines helped drive a sharp quarterly rise in passenger numbers and sales.
The government-backed Gulf airline has surprised rivals by rapidly buying up stakes in four separate airlines, including Germany's second-biggest, Air Berlin PLC. At the same time, it is bulking up its own fleet and adding destinations across its network.
For the period between April and June, Etihad says it pulled in revenue of $1.25 billion, as passenger numbers jumped by more than a third and cargo sales ticked higher. That is up from $957 million in sales during the same period a year earlier.
Passenger numbers during the quarter leaped 34 percent to 2.6 million as the carrier filled a bigger share of seats onboard its planes, Etihad said.
President and CEO James Hogan said the gains show its partnerships with other carriers are working, in part because the links allow them to feed additional passengers through Etihad's network.
In addition to the foreign airline stakes, Etihad has codeshares with several carriers, including American Airlines. Those agreements allow passengers to book a single ticket on both airlines.
"We'll continue to grow organically," Hogan told The Associated Press in an interview, "but we're working in a global market, and to stretch our market, these partnerships are key."
Etihad launched its acquisition drive in December, when it took a stake of nearly 30 percent in Air Berlin. Weeks later, it agreed to buy 40 percent of Air Seychelles, the island country's national carrier.
It has since taken smaller stakes in Ireland's Aer Lingus and in Virgin Australia.
Etihad is fully is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Its fleet boasts 67 mostly wide-body planes and has orders for 100 more.
The carrier began operations in 2003. It and its Gulf rivals, Qatar Airways and Dubai-based Emirates, are increasingly challenging older Western and Asian carriers in the battle for lucrative long-haul international passengers.
Hogan declined to comment about specific plans to raise Etihad's stakes in any of its existing partners, but he did not rule out further acquisitions.
"We're always looking, as long as it meets our criteria," he said.
The airline did not release quarterly profit figures. Hogan said it is nonetheless "on track to achieve our profit targets for the end of the year."
Etihad posted its first annual profit last year, booking earnings of $14 million. It expects to stay in the black again in 2012.
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