Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, aims to increase its passenger numbers in 2009 by 15 per cent to a total of seven million.
The airline will expand its global flight network to 55 destinations during the year as well as grow its fleet to more than 50 aircraft. Etihad flew six million passengers in 2008 to 50 routes with a fleet of 42 aircraft.
A total of 900 weekly Etihad flights will operate this summer, a 20 per cent rise on the 750 weekly flights which operated during the same season in 2008.
Eleven new passenger aircraft are set to join Etihad's fleet in 2009 which will enable Etihad to launch new services to Melbourne, Istanbul, Athens, Larnaca and Chicago, as well as increase frequencies on many existing routes across its network of international destinations.
The additional aircraft will increase Etihad's seat capacity by 18 per cent and cargo capacity by 12 per cent to 3.5 million tonnes.
Currently Etihad has a fleet of 44 narrow and wide-body aircraft which will rise to 52, with one aircraft retiring recently from the current fleet, by the end of 2009. The new additions consist of two Airbus A330-200s, one A330-300, two A340-600s, five A320-200s and one Boeing 777-300ER.
Etihad achieved more than US$2.5 billion in revenues in 2008 and is targeting US$3 billion in 2009, an increase of 20 per cent.
James Hogan, Etihad Airways' chief executive, said: "The aviation industry is facing its toughest challenge for many years as a result of the current global economic crisis but Etihad Airways will seek to continue its expansion plans during 2009 in a measured, considered and controlled manner.
"The new aircraft arrivals will boost our fleet by a quarter and allow us to launch flights to five new destinations as well as build depth and frequency into our existing network.
"We have an excellent award-winning product in all three aircraft cabins, and will target an average seat factor of 77 per cent, to help us achieve our ambitious plans to fly seven million passengers during the year.
"Although we will watch our costs very carefully we will not cut back on customer service nor will we compromise whatsoever on safety, the absolute bedrock of our business."
Etihad has a workforce of 7,300 and plans to recruit a further 1,000 employees during the year, bringing total staff numbers to 8,500, an increase of 15 per cent.
Flight deck crew numbers will grow by 65 during 2009. In addition, 25 trainee pilots are expected to graduate from the airline's Emirati and international cadet pilot programmes, bringing the total number of pilots to 840 by the end of the year. This will represent an increase in pilots of 11 per cent. Furthermore, nearly 100 new cadet pilots will start training with Etihad during the year.
Etihad currently has 2,900 cabin crew members in its ranks and the airline plans to recruit an additional 200 people during 2009, bringing the total number of crew to 3,100 by the end of the year, an increase of 10 per cent.
Etihad launches daily non-stop flights from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne in Australia. The route will be flown by an Airbus A340-600, configured to carry 292 passengers and 15 tonnes of cargo. The addition of Melbourne, which joins Sydney and Brisbane, will mean that Etihad will offer for sale nearly 5,700 seats a week into Australia.
The introduction of flights in June to Istanbul, Athens and Larnaca, as well as increases in frequency to Brussels, Geneva, Milan and Moscow, means that Etihad will offer its customers a choice of 98 weekly flights into 14 European countries.
Etihad will also strengthen its North American network later this year with the launch of flights to Chicago's O'Hare airport on 2 September, which will become a daily non-stop operation from 1 October. Chicago joins Etihad's established North American routes to New York and Toronto and boosts capacity to the continent by 35 per cent.
The airline's Middle Eastern network will be strengthened further from 29 March, with Abu Dhabi to Amman services increasing from 10 to 14 flights per week. Services to Beirut will also increase to two flights a day from the current 11 flights per week and Doha will receive a boost from three to four flights a day.
Etihad's flights from Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur will increase from six flights a week to daily beginning on 29 March.
The opening of the new Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi airport will continue to enhance the experience for Etihad Airways customers and allow the airline to expand and meet its future growth projections.
Mr Hogan added: "The transfer of Etihad flights to Terminal 3 is supported by our significant investment in passenger facilities, such as state-of-the-art premium lounges and improved check-in areas for premium and economy passengers."
In addition to improvements to Abu Dhabi airport, the emirate will also host its first Formula 1 TM Grand Prix in 2009. In addition to its role as title sponsor for the 1 November race Etihad will fly many of the drivers, teams and equipment to the UAE's capital city.
Mr Hogan concluded: "This year will be a tough one for everyone in the airline industry but because of Etihad's investment in its product, fleet and home-base airport as well as the development in Abu Dhabi - we are confident that we can continue our impressive growth."