Is Etihad Planning an IPO? ‘I’m Working To Be Ready’ Says CEO

Etihad Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner LR

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The comments from Antonoaldo Neves suggest that the UAE national airline is taking the possibility of an IPO very seriously.

Etihad Airways is profitable again and a turnaround program is progressing well. Could an IPO be next? 

It’s one of the hottest questions in the aviation industry right now after a Bloomberg report suggested a public listing could be on the cards. 

On Wednesday, the UAE national carrier posted a decent set of financials for 2023. Passenger numbers and revenue were both up strongly. While it wasn’t industry-leading profitability, Etihad’s performance represented a huge turnaround from its pre-pandemic doldrums. 

Speaking to CNBC on Wednesday morning, Antonoaldo Neves, Etihad Group CEO, said it made good business sense to be prepared for a listing. “I need to be ready, and I’m working to be ready whenever is the time. It is not something that depends only on the internal aspect of the company, Etihad is going to be ready to IPO whenever is the right time to do it.”

The Etihad Aviation Group is best known for operating the UAE’s national carrier, but its portfolio also includes maintenance and other divisions.

Since 2022, it has been wholly owned by ADQ, an Abu Dhabi-based investment and holding company. It describes itself as “a strategic partner of Abu Dhabi’s government.”

“It’s no secret that ADQ has listed companies before… so it’s our obligation as Etihad to be ready to IPO the company whenever the shareholder believes it is the right time to do it,” said Neves.

IPO Not a ‘Final Destination’

The CEO suggested that even if an IPO does take place, company management doesn’t consider it as an end-game.

“For an IPO you need to have the market open, you have to have investors willing to invest, you have to have the company ready to do it. What I can tell you from a management perspective is that we don’t see an IPO as a final destination, it’s just another lever that you can pull to have access to the capital markets.”

Neves was appointed as CEO of the Etihad Aviation Group in October 2022. He took over from Tony Douglas, who now leads Saudi start-up Riyadh Air. Neves joined Etihad from TAP Air Portugal where he led a major turnaround.

Etihad’s current growth plan runs for the next six years and is known internally as Journey 2030. Neves has previously discussed targets to double the fleet size to 150 aircraft. The airline currently carries around 14 million passengers a year and wants to get to 33 million. 

Last year, Etihad moved into its new home and hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Terminal A. The complex can process up to 45 million travelers annually, more than double the previous passenger capacity.

When Could Etihad Go Public?

Neves said the increased IPO chatter was an illustration of how far the company had come in recent years. “We should all be very proud that there is speculation about [an IPO]. Five years ago the speculation in the reports was that Etihad was going to be sold; Etihad was going to be shut down. It’s a testament that we’re doing a good job.”

As far as timelines, Neves told CNBC: “It’s not for me to confirm the shareholder decisions.”

However, he did hint that if, or when, the time comes, it could be with just a few weeks’ notice. “IPOs are a very simple process. You only know it one month before – that’s it – and we’re not one month from an IPO.”

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