MIAMI — United Arab Emirates national carrier Etihad Airways reported that 2014 was its strongest operational year in its nearly 12-year history. The year 2014 brought a record number of passengers onto Etihad’s aircraft and saw rapid expansion throughout the world.

According to the carrier, just under 14.8 million passengers flew with Etihad in 2014, a 23 percent increase over 2013. This number made the airline the number one carrier at Abu Dhabi International Airport, carrying more than 74 percent of Abu Dhabi passengers. When figuring in Etihad’s airline partners operating at Abu Dhabi International Airport, the percent jumps to 82 percent of Abu Dhabi passengers.

This prodigious growth comes as Etihad faces extreme market pressures from regional competitors Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways. Having three international carriers within 400 km of each other creates stiff market competition.  Even with this competition, Etihad continues to surge toward its goal of becoming a international megacarrier like fellow UAE airline Emirates.

Etihad President and CEO James Hogan said in a statement: “Our business model, which focuses on organic network growth, codeshare partnerships and minority equity investments in other airlines, continued to yield positive results in 2014 and surpassed our double-digit targets for passenger and cargo growth.”

Etihad Cargo saw a 17 percent year on year growth in 2014. Etihad Airways and Etihad Cargo carried 568,648 tons of freight and mail flown over the course of the year. This large amount accounts for 89.6 percent of cargo imports, exports, and transfers at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

2014 welcomed 10 new destinations to Etihad’s rapidly expanding route network: Medina, Jaipur, Los Angeles, Zurich, Perth, Rome, Yerevan, Phuket, San Francisco and Dallas. In addition to these new routes, Etihad increased frequencies of 23 pre-existing routes out of Abu Dhabi. The new U.S. flights compliment existing flights out of New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare, and Washington Dulles airports.

2014 was a historical year for Etihad in regards to codeshare and equality partnership growth. Etihad calculates that these partnerships brought more than 3.5 million passengers onto its flights. This marks a 40 percent increase from 2.3 million in 2013. These large increase was largely spurred from new or expanded codeshare agreements with Air Europa, JetBlue, Philippine Airlines, GOL, SAS, Hong Kong Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas, South African Airways, Alitalia and Jet Airways.

a 49 percent stake in Italian flag carrier Alitalia for €560 million ($763.9 million). The deal, which was announced in August of 2014, includes a 75 percent stake in Alitalia Loyalty and five coveted London Heathrow slots that will be leased back to Alitalia. The deal cleared the European Commision in November and came into effect on December 31, 2014.

From a fleet perspective, the Gulf carrier is currently experiencing near exponential growth in total long-haul aircraft. With 15 aircraft delivered in 2014, Etihad’s fleet now sits at 110 aircraft operating passenger and cargo operations. With an average fleet age of only 5.5 years, Etihad operates one of the youngest and most technologically advanced fleets in the world.

The addition of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380-800 to the fleet capitalized an already historic year at Etihad. The airline took delivery of nine Airbus aircraft and six Boeing aircraft. Additional aircraft joined Etihad’s fleet through lease deals such as several Boeing 777-200LR aircraft from financially challenged Indian carrier Air India.

The Gulf carrier received much media coverage in late 2014 with the introduction of “The Residence by Etihad” This luxurious three room sweat aboard the Airbus A380 instantly became the gold standard in luxury air travel. AirwaysNews featured the one of the first published reviews of the Residence by Etihad shortly after its inaugural flight.

Etihad’s “The Residence,” board the Airbus A380. (Credits: Etihad Airways)

Entering 2015, the Gulf carrier is poised to take delivery of four additional 787-9 aircraft, several Airbus A320 family aircraft, four Airbus A380-800 aircraft, and several leased 777-200 aircraft. Hogan said “We enter 2015 as a stronger, more dynamic airline that will continue to enhance the growth of Abu Dhabi as one of the world’s emerging aviation hubs.”