Etihad Airways signals possible IPO after 2023 revenue rebound

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Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is gearing up for a potential IPO, CEO says

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is gearing up for a potential initial public offering after increasing revenue in 2023 on the back of a 40% boost in passenger numbers.

Asked about a possible listing, Etihad Airways Group CEO Antonoaldo Neves told CNBC on Tuesday, “I’m working to be ready, whenever it’s the time.”

Talk of an IPO has been swirling after it was reported that ADQ, the Abu Dhabi-based investment company that owns Etihad Airways, was in discussions with banks about going public as soon as this year.

“It’s not for me to confirm the shareholder decisions,” Neves said, while also signaling efforts to prepare the airline. “It’s our obligation to be ready to IPO the company whenever the shareholder believes it is the right time… and this is good, even if you don’t do it.”

If it materializes, an IPO would enable Etihad to tap capital markets to fund future growth and expansion plans. It would also make it the first major Gulf carrier to become publicly traded, after years of speculation surrounding the listing of Dubai-based rival Emirates.

“We’re working very hard, so that our governance is top notch… so that profitability is at the level that the shareholder can decide to IPO or not to IPO,” Neves said, adding that “management are putting a lot of effort in place so that the company can be compared to any other company that is listed.”

Since joining the airline in 2022, Neves has limited losses and invested in the customer experience after Etihad’s ownership transfer to ADQ during the Covid-19 pandemic. The investment company has already launched a number of high-profile IPOs in recent years, including Abu Dhabi Ports and Pure Health.

ADQ declined to comment about possible listing plans.

Neves has previously led cost cutting and fleet upgrades at Portuguese national airline TAP and brought Azul Airlines public in New York in 2017. Etihad’s CFO Raffael Quintas also served as CFO of TAP and as corporate treasurer at Azul.

A listing would mark a significant step for Etihad and regional capital markets, but remains a hefty hurdle. Going public would subject the airline to stricter financial reporting and disclosure requirements, additional compliance costs and market pressure surrounding performance targets.

Improving transparency

Etihad on Wednesday reported it achieved an operating profit of $394 million in 2023, driven by a surge in passenger numbers to 14 million last year. The company launched 15 destinations and added 14 new aircrafts in the period, on the back of ongoing recovery in post-Covid-19 demand.

Total revenue was $5.5 billion in 2023, up from $5 billion in the previous year. Net profit was just $143 million. While the figure is modest compared to industry giants, Neves said he was optimistic about Etihad’s ability to expand margins and profitability, despite a challenging geopolitical backdrop and higher cost environment.

Etihad Airways CEO says he would like to cut costs by $100-150 million each year

The airline expects revenue growth of 25-30% this year and is targeting between $100 to $150 million in cost cuts, but didn’t offer guidance on profit estimates.

“I think we can do better,” Neves said.

Boeing Concerns

Neves also sought to reassure the flying public about Etihad’s Boeing fleet after a door blowout on a Boeing 737-Max 9 aircraft. He said Etihad does not fly the aircraft in question, but it is a significant Boeing 787 wide-body customer

“We really trust the 787. It’s a safe plane. It’s an amazing machine. It’s one of the best machines flying today. The safety record is good. The operating standards are good. We’re very confident about the 787 program,” Neves said.

Etihad Airways CEO says he's not concerned about Boeing's safety standards

He nevertheless expressed concern that the situation at Boeing could exacerbate delays and supply chain issues that could impact the airline.

“You cannot delay planes… and that goes for Airbus as well,” Neves said. “Delays after delays after delays – we live today in a world where an aircraft has become a scarce resource … The only way tickets are going to go down is if we have more aircraft, so that will deploy more capacity.”

He added, “The reality is there is untapped demand in the market.”

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