The carrier will introduce 412-seat, two-class 777-300ERs on its three-times-weekly Abu Dhabi-Chicago service in August in place of the three-class, 240-seat Airbus A340-500s...

Etihad Airways is boosting frequencies on five key European routes in 2011 and will increase capacity on its Chicago-Abu Dhabi route from the summer by introducing Boeing 777-300ERs to operate the service.

The airline will also increase capacity and service frequency on several other routes  as it takes delivery of new aircraft, saying this will add depth to its network and improve connectivity through its Abu Dhabi hub.

According to sources familiar with Etihad Airways’ plans, the carrier will introduce 412-seat, two-class 777-300ERs on its three-times-weekly Abu Dhabi-Chicago service in August in place  of the three-class, 240-seat Airbus A340-500s and 284-seat A340-600s it now uses. Etihad Airways already operates Boeing 777-300ERs on its three-times-weekly service linking Abu Dhabi with Toronto.

Etihad Airways’ European capacity increases, effective between June and August 2011, include upping service frequency on its route from Abu Dhabi to Paris to twice-daily flights from its current 10 flights per week. Its Abu Dhabi-Manchester will go up from daily to 10 flights per week; Abu Dhabi-Geneva will rise from five flights per week to daily; Abu Dhabi-Milan will increase from five flights per week to daily; and Abu Dhabi-Brussels will move from six to eight flights per week.

It is likely Etihad will operate the additional flights on each route with the same or similar equipment to the aircraft it is now using to operate them, according to the sources.

Etihad Airways has a total of 15 Boeing 777-300ERs in service and on order, and has optioned 14 more

The airline will also move from five to daily flights on its Beijing services; and schedule a capacity increase to Bangalore in India, a new route which Etihad Airways began on January 1 with four flights a week. The Abu Dhabi-Bangalore route will move to a daily operation in the summer, according to the airline.

Etihad Airways says that enhancements to its schedule mean that by October it will serve 74 per cent of its network of 66 destinations with daily flights, or offer service that is even more frequent.

“As we take delivery of new aircraft in 2011, our focus is on offering at least a daily service on key business routes – and wherever possible, a double-daily service – to attract a greater share of the corporate travel market,” says James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ chief executive officer. “At the same time, the new schedule will help us offer greatly improved connections across the network, making transiting via Abu Dhabi much more convenient for business and leisure travellers. In fact, our sub-four-hour connections will increase by 50 per cent.”

Adds Hogan: “We will continue to look at the best ways of deploying our aircraft, looking at the optimum use of our three-class, two-class and all-economy aircraft to ensure we have the right mix of capacity and product for each of our 66 destinations.”

Hogan says Etihad’s service-frequency increase will be supported by the delivery of three Airbus A330-300s and two Boeing 777-300ERs during the summer of 2011.

Etihad says it will also continue its existing retro-fit program for the widebody and narrowbody aircraft currently in its fleet. This will see greater efficiencies in the premium cabins and five additional rows of seats in the economy cabins on its A330-300s, according to the airline.

“Abu Dhabi continues to grow as a business and leisure hub and Etihad’s retro-fitted aircraft, newly delivered aircraft, and flight frequency increases, will ensure that greater numbers of travellers will visit the UAE’s capital in the coming years,” says Hogan. “2011 will be one of the most important years in Etihad’s history, as we add depth and scale to our operation, build on our impressive growth of the past seven years, and move towards our break-even target by year-end.”

Etihad Airways expects to have 62 passenger and cargo aircraft in operation by the third quarter of 2011.