Etihad Airways has more bi-lateral partnerships with carriers around the world than any other airline. It is no surprise, therefore, that permanent speculation surrounds whether or not the Abu Dhabi-based carrier will ever join one of the three global airline alliances.

According to one of the airline’s senior executive, it’s not going to happen any time soon.

Kevin Knight, Etihad’s chief strategy and planning officer, told delegates at the Sabre Airline Solutions AirVision conference in Vienna today that the future of alliances remains unclear, and that for the moment his airline is content to watch from the sidelines.

“I spent nearly 17 years at United [Airlines] so I know a thing or two about alliances,” he said during his keynote presentation.

“This is an interesting time in the evolution of alliances. We’re seeing some stress, and we’re not sure where it’s going. There are alliances developing within alliances. There are JVs (joint ventures) within the alliances working together to drive additional value, which makes sense. But what if you’re in the alliance but not in the JV? You must be thinking, well I’m part of the club, but I’m not really part of the club.

“There are also cross alliance partnerships emerging. Look at Emirates partnering with Qantas. It’s interesting and makes a lot of sense. But Qantas was a founding member of oneworld, and had historically partnered another oneworld founder, British Airways, on those routes. We are happy to be on the sidelines watching how some of this plays out.”

Etihad has recently made equity investments in a number of global carriers: 29 percent in Air Berlin, 3 percent in Aer Lingus, 40 percent in Air Seychelles and 10 percent in Virgin Australia. Knight says that having “skin in the game” creates the motivation and “stickiness” that allows like-minded airlines to achieve maximum value.