Our business class is holding strong. With a corporate travel downturn, (passengers) used to flying first class (will see that) we're one of the few airlines with beds in business class (of our wide-body aircraft).
A major reason for that growth is the diversity of our customer base — premium business travelers, leisure travelers, labor traffic from Asia and the Indian sub-continent, and the regular religious pilgrimage traffic into Saudi Arabia.
Abu Dhabi has had strong GDP growth rates over the last five years. And even in the current global environment, (it) is expected to see continued growth.
•Some say you have an unfair advantage as a government-backed company. How do you respond?
We are a government-owned carrier. But we have been established and have to run as a commercial business. We get no state-funded handouts — no help with oil subsidies or deeply discounted landing charges at our home airport. We hedge fuel. We go to the markets in Europe, as well as to our local banks, to raise money.
•Etihad is a relatively unknown name in the USA. What do you plan to do to change that?
A: If you were to ask that question in a London newsroom, you'd have (asked) me a different (question). You don't develop a global brand overnight. We've been involved in sports sponsorships to help us project the brand. We're a sponsor of Ferrari Formula One racing team. We sponsored a premier sports stadium in Melbourne. It's called Etihad Stadium. In Ireland, we sponsored a game called hurling. We do have a track record of using sports. In America (we may) move in to some sort of sponsorship.
The U.S. presents a very important market for us. This market is largely untapped.