(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Open skies have been "a model of success, generating enormous benefits for travellers and for airlines in the US, the UAE and around the world", said James Hogan, president and chief executive officer of Etihad Airways, speaking at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 14th Annual Aviation Summit in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
In his first public comments since three US airlines launched a campaign against Etihad Airways and other Gulf carriers, Hogan called for reasoned debate based upon facts. He also warned against action, which would restrict competitive choice for millions of US and international air travellers in markets which the US airlines have chosen not to serve.
Hogan's speech laid out the key facts behind Etihad Airways' growth and its competitive strategy.
"As one of the newest national airlines anywhere in the world, we've had to create everything from scratch: every bit of product, every bit of our operations, every bit of our infrastructure," he said.
"Etihad is a David, a David who's been facing Goliaths since 2003, when we started. In virtually every market we've entered, we've had to face existing competitors, with established businesses, established infrastructure, established sales and marketing, established brands, and established customer bases."
"In many cases, those established airlines were gifted amazing infrastructure - airports, terminals, slots, landing rights - over decades. To take them on, we've had to work harder and we've had to work smarter. That's called competition."
"We've been helped by our geographic position. The Gulf is at the centre of today's trade and travel routes. Today's aircraft technology and the changing patterns of world trade mean we are positioned strongly for many new and emerging markets."
"We've been helped by our blank sheet of paper - no legacy systems, no legacy aircraft, no legacy mindsets."
"And we've been pushed hard by the vision and ambition of our shareholder to create a globally competitive airline."
Hogan said the "secret" behind Etihad Airways' rapid growth was nothing more than incredible customer service, delivered on modern new aircraft, with world-leading product, at competitive prices, on routes people want to fly. He also said that Etihad Airways had been more transparent about its business than other airlines.
"Etihad Airways has had a greater focus on reaching and delivering sustainable profitability - we believe - than any other national airline in history," he said. "We set a timetable to break even within a decade and we beat that target. We've delivered a net profit in each of the last three years.
"I say 'we believe' because it is surprisingly hard to find financial information about the first one or two decades of national airlines around the world. We get criticized regularly for our so-called lack of transparency but we see few national airlines that were as open in their first stages of development, as we are being in ours."
As a national airline owned by its government, said Hogan, Etihad Airways is no different than scores of airlines around the world. The airline has always made clear it has received equity investment and shareholder loans, which have been supplemented by 10.5 billion in loans from international financial institutions.