Power Letters 2021: Tony Douglas, CEO, Etihad Aviation Group
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Power Letters 2021: Tony Douglas, CEO, Etihad Aviation Group

Power Letters 2021: Tony Douglas, CEO, Etihad Aviation Group

As part of Etihad Wellness, the airline introduced the Covid-19 global wellness insurance for all its guests

Gulf Business

Etihad started 2020 strong and we recorded encouraging results as part of our ongoing transformation programme. This left us in a robust position, allowing us to act with agility as we dealt with a series of events at the outset of the year, from riots in Hong Kong and volcanic ash clouds in the Philippines, to the biggest bushfires in Australian history and the terrible tragedy with Ukrainian Airlines that resulted in the closure of airspace.

We were fitter than ever but could not have imagined what was to come next.

As the effects of Covid-19 rapidly deepened, airspace around the world began to close, and from March 24, 2020, this included the UAE. I can remember that moment, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was heart-breaking to see our aircraft returning to Abu Dhabi International Airport. Having to ground your entire fleet – like we did – is almost unheard of, except of course during geopolitical events or natural disasters.

The immediate thing that was going through my mind was how to turn a massive negative into an opportunity, so we established four work streams: ‘Project Restart’ focused on getting the airline back up and running; ‘Project Cargo’, which saw us building our freighter capability significantly by turning our passenger aircraft into mini-freighters using bellyhold cargo; embarking on the most extensive aircraft maintenance programme in our history with ‘Project Cabin’; and finally, ‘Project Vision’, which gave us the opportunity to refocus our efforts on what our passengers’ priorities would be moving forward, and saw the development of our extensive wellness programme.

As part of Etihad Wellness, we introduced Covid-19 global wellness insurance for all our  guests – no exceptions. Guests who are diagnosed with the virus during their trip won’t have to worry about medical expenses or quarantine costs when they fly with us. We hope this cover not only instils confidence to travel, but also reassures our guests we are doing all we can to protect them.

Ultimately, a widely adopted vaccine or the introduction of health visas will allow the aviation industry to recover from this crisis and we’re already seeing significant steps being made in this direction. At Etihad, we’re playing our own part by working with Abu Dhabi and global entities to form the Hope Consortium, to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine around  the world.

In the Middle East, according to IATA, airlines will lose $7.1bn in 2020, and 1.8 million jobs within the industry are at risk. Prolonged travel restrictions could also eliminate $115bn worth of GDP. These forecasts are eye-watering; however we can’t afford to fixate on them. We have to concentrate on the road to recovery. The future airline is a sustainable one.

Here’s the deal – we need to fly, but we have to do it responsibly. Regardless of the current crisis, sustainability and responsible climate action remain the most significant long-term challenges facing the aviation industry.

You can position sustainability as an either/or proposition but frankly that doesn’t work. Those that don’t adapt, won’t survive. Post-Covid, sustainability will be back on top of the agenda. While I can’t comment for other airlines, at Etihad, sustainability remains a key priority for us and even through the current crisis and the operational challenges we are facing, we’ve never lost sight of our commitment to sustainable aviation.

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