DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Fast-growing Etihad Airways has taken a nearly 3 percent stake in Aer Lingus as part of a strategy to build closer bonds with the Irish carrier, the airline said Tuesday.
The move appears part of a wider Etihad effort to seek stakes in overseas carriers to gain a possible edge in its rivalries with Gulf carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways. It did not disclose how much it paid for the shares.
"Etihad Airways believes a possible partnership could produce significant commercial benefits for both airlines," the Abu Dhabi-based airline said in a statement announcing the deal.
Etihad executives were not immediately available for further comment.
Aer Lingus confirmed the purchase. It said in a statement to the Irish Stock Exchange that it has been in talks with Etihad about codesharing deals, which are arrangements between carriers that allow them to market flights on each other's networks.
The Irish airline added that "future discussions may explore additional commercial and cost opportunities to develop a closer working relationship," but that the outcome of those talks is uncertain. For now, Aer Lingus said it does not expect Etihad to boost its stake further.
Etihad in recent months has bought a nearly 30 percent stake in Airberlin and 40 percent of Air Seychelles as it seeks an advantage over its larger Gulf rivals.
Aer Lingus has long been rumored to be on Etihad's radar.
While not commenting directly on a tie-up with the Irish carrier, Etihad CEO James Hogan has expressed an interest in pursuing further acquisitions or significant minority stakes in other airlines to expand its reach.
The carrier suggested its Aer Lingus buy could be the start of a deeper partnership.
The oil-rich Abu Dhabi government set up Etihad in 2003 and remains its sole owner. It operates 10 flights a week from the Emirati capital to Dublin.