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Etihad purchase of Darwin stake gets Swiss approval

[ZURICH] Switzerland's civil aviation office has approved Etihad Airways' purchase of a stake in Darwin Airline, the Swiss company said on Thursday, concluding a deal that was first announced more than a year ago.

Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, is scooping up stakes in airlines to expand its route network and boost traffic through its Abu Dhabi hub. It agreed to buy a 33.3 per cent stake in Lugano, Switzerland-based Darwin at the start of 2014.

Darwin rebranded itself Etihad Regional in anticipation of the deal's completion, but the acquisition was held up as the pair waited for approval from Switzerland's Federal Office of Civil Aviation (BAZL).

The Swiss airline said in a statement BAZL had given final approval to the stake sale.

"This partnership will provide us the financial stability for the long-term growth of our company, dispelling any market uncertainty," Darwin Chief Executive Maurizio Merlo said in a statement.

BAZL said it had approved the deal following the adoption of a new business model which reduces the dependence of Darwin vis-a-vis Etihad. In addition to its own flights, Darwin will operate flights on behalf of Alitalia and Air Berlin in Europe, BAZL added in a statement.

The Swiss carrier said in October Etihad had agreed to relinquish a role in the appointment of top executives in order to secure approval for the deal.

In December, Darwin alleged Lufthansa-owned Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) had responded to the deal by engaging in a series of actions aimed at forcing the airline out of the Swiss market.

Darwin lodged a formal complaint with the Switzerland's competition commission.