As the chart illustrates, Etihad is the smallest of the ME3. Because Etihad was the smallest but had the same task of “showing the flag”, its management developed a strategy of acquiring key stakes in European airlines. Typically, these airlines were in financial straits and a stake could be bought at a discount. The strategy succeeded because Etihad had no problems acquiring landing slots anywhere in the EU. Whereas its ME3 competitors struggled to acquire such slots. In the end, though buying stakes in poorly run airlines failed.
Qatar went down the alliance road, joining oneworld. It was a smart decision. Now Qatar is buying stakes in well-run airlines. This looks like another smart move. Given the blockade by its neighbors, Qatar appears to be overcoming the operational challenges. Profits are going to be hit, but the airline keeps growing.
Emirates is aloof to alliances. It also does not seem to follow anyone’s lead. It remains the largest A380 customer and continues to use these to open new markets and move traffic away from other brands. Now it is joining the 787 club, and will no doubt use these to pry open more markets and continue to drive the world’s aviation center of gravity to the Arabian Gulf.