Etihad Airways will borrow about US$1.26bn to finance the acquisition of new aircraft this year. The largest of three separate deals involves a US$450mn-US$500mn facility to finance four Airbus A340-600s.

The planes will be delivered between July and November. The airline has already entered into discussions with international banks and will meet with local ones this week, Rigney said during an aviation conference in Abu Dhabi.

The airline will seek to finance 85% of the aircraft purchase price through loans with a maturity date of between 12 and 15 years. Etihad Airways is open to either a conventional or Islamic lease.

A second facility led by National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) involves a conventional finance lease for four Airbus A330-200 aircraft, also due for delivery this year. The US$360mn loan is being led by NBAD and should be completed by mid-year.

A third deal completed on March 9 involved a US$400mn Islamic finance lease for the acquisition of four A340-500.

Citigroup and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank led the deal and were joined by six other institutions. The planes were delivered in 2006 and were financed until now through bridge financing.

After these loans Etihad Airways will next require financing in the first quarter of 2009, when it takes delivery of its first two A380s. Two more are scheduled for 2010.

Out of its current fleet of 25 jets, Etihad Airways has taken out four Islamic finance leases, 12 conventional leases, five operating leases, and three wet leases for its cargo planes – which come with the provision of cabin crew and other staff and services. Etihad Airways also owns one aircraft outright.

Etihad Airways is to introduce bigger aircraft on its new service between Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi due to strong passenger demand. A Boeing 777-300ER will provide 378 seats in a two-class configuration, with 28 seats in business class and 350 in economy class – 113 more seats (per flight) than the Airbus A340-300 that operates the route at present.

Cargo capacity will also increase to a maximum of 20 tonnes.