Abu Dhabi’s Etihad looking at 2023 turnaround as losses pile up to $1.7bln

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Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is still targeting a return to profit in 2023, despite a more than doubling in core operating losses last year, after accelerating its restructuring during the pandemic.

The state carrier, which started a five-year turnaround plan three years ago, said on Thursday it had shed 33 percent of its workforce, reducing it to 13,587.

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Etihad, which grounded most of its fleet between March and June, posted a core operating loss of $1.7 billion for 2020.

That’s the airline’s fifth consecutive annual loss, though it said it had been ahead of turnaround targets in the first quarter before the pandemic struck global travel.

Analysts expect it will take the industry several years to recover.

Annual operating revenue fell 52 percent to $2.7 billion, Etihad said in a statement. Passenger traffic plunged 76 percent to 4.2 million, with over 80 percent travelling in the first quarter.

The airline’s operations are entirely dependent on international travel. It does not operate domestic routes that could provide a cushion against border closures.

Abu Dhabi has also imposed tight entry restrictions into the emirate, requiring many visitors to quarantine on arrival.

Aviation has been one of the industries worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis, forcing airlines to lay off staff and seek government bailouts.

Etihad Chief Executive Tony Douglas thanked its shareholder, the Abu Dhabi government, for the support it had given the airline, without specifying what exactly it had provided.

Etihad started its turnaround drive as losses piled up after a splurge in spending aimed at competing with major Gulf carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways. It has accumulated losses of around $7.3 billion since 2016.

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