EDINBURGH is expected to be chosen by Etihad Airways for its first Scottish route next year, hotting up competition on the fast-growing long-haul market via the Middle East, The Scotsman understands.
The Abu Dhabi-based carrier would take on Qatar Airways, which starts flights between Edinburgh and Doha in May, according to aviation experts.
Etihad chief executive James Hogan announced to a Scottish travel trade dinner last night that it would start the first route from Scotland in 2015, followed by a second within five years.
Experts believe Edinburgh is the most likely choice because rival airline Emirates already operates two flights a day between Glasgow and Dubai.
The Aberdeen market is seen as not yet large enough, but its oil-related traffic to the Middle East could make it Etihad’s second route.
Mr Hogan told the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association event in Glasgow: “Scotland, we are coming.
“We will be come into our first city next year.
“We are certainly keen to come into Scotland and build our presence over the next five years, when we will fly to two Scottish cities.”
The announcement came as a surprise since Etihad had been discussing a route with Edinburgh Airport for some five years, only for Qatar to launch one first.
It has been argued this was because the airline decided to focus instead on launching eight other routes this year.
Mr Hogan said Etihad was still negotiating with Scottish airports, so could not disclose which would land the first route.
An aviation analyst said that was a ploy to get the best deal. John Strickland, of JLS Consulting, said: “I’m sure he will wish to extract the best possible package by seeing how much the airline can get.
“Edinburgh will probably be the one. It has the advantage of being better known, so can more easily attract inbound traffic.
“Qatar is also being quite cautious and is just dipping its toe in the water from Edinburgh by using only a [medium-size] Boeing 787 Dreamliner, while Etihad might come in with a larger aircraft.”
Mr Strickland said Emirates had cornered the market from Glasgow with its well-established flights to Dubai, from where there are also more connections than from the other two Gulf states’ hubs,
He added: “Aberdeen is less likely because it is much more of a niche, oil-related market with fewer passengers.”
Emirates has proved the attraction of a one-stop route between Scotland and Asia and Australia by increasing the size and number of aircraft on its Glasgow route since being launched in 2004.
The airline will mark the tenth anniversary next month with a one-off flight using an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft.
Emirates has already signalled it may deploy the double-decker plane on the route in future, as The Scotsman revealed last year.
Scottish passengers flying via Dubai avoid having to make two stops, at a European hub such as Heathrow or Amsterdam, then again in Asia.
A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “We welcome Mr Hogan’s comments and understand Etihad’s interest in Scotland.
“Edinburgh Airport is always keen discuss expanding Scotland’s route network with interested airlines.”