Abu Dhabi's Etihad plans expansion push into India

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Etihad Airways is expanding operations in India with more flights and wide-bodied jets, building on its deal with Jet Airways as it eyes growth in one of the fastest growing markets.

The Abu Dhabi airline, which is buying a 24 percent stake in the Indian operator, announced a threefold increase in seats on the prime Abu Dhabi to Mumbai and New Delhi routes from November.

Etihad also intends to codeshare on a wide range of flights operated within India by Jet Airways.

"India is one of the world's fastest-growing destinations, and a key market in the growth strategy of Etihad Airways," President and Chief Executive James Hogan said in a statement.

"Following the recent signing of a new air services agreement between India and the UAE, we now have the opportunity to add significant capacity between the two countries."

The India-UAE agreement finalised earlier this month allows both countries' airlines to add 36,670 seats per week over three years to the current entitlement of 13,600 seats.

Etihad is fully-owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

By the end of the year, Etihad will operate twice-daily flights using wide-bodied aircraft on the Abu Dhabi-Mumbai and Abu Dhabi-New Delhi routes, compared with a daily flight currently. It also plans to upgrade Abu Dhabi-Chennai flights.

The accord had been criticised by opposition politicians who said it favoured Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, which in April agreed to a near-quarter stake in Jet Airways.

Etihad and Jet are yet to close the deal. Pending final approvals, Etihad said earlier this month, it expected the deal to be cleared by Indian authorities "imminently".

(Reporting by Stanley Carvalho, Editing by David Cowell)

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