Abu Dhabi's airport operator expects 10.7 million passengers to pass through the UAE capital's main airport in 2022, more than double last year's number, as the industry continues to recover from the coronavirus-induced slowdown.
Abu Dhabi International Airport handled 5.26 million passengers in 2021, 5.5 per cent less than the previous year, as demand declined due to global travel restrictions, Abu Dhabi Airports said on Wednesday.
Last year's passenger traffic levels were mainly driven by a surge in travel during the fourth quarter. About 2.43 million passengers passed through the airport in the last three months of 2021, or 46 per cent of the passenger traffic for the entire year.
“The sharp rise in passenger traffic during the last three months of the year is a clear indication that the recovery is under way and gaining momentum,” said Abu Dhabi Airports chief executive Shareef Al Hashmi.
The UAE capital has taken measures such as reducing business licence fees to bolster its tourism sector amid the pandemic as it seeks to diversify its economy.
With multibillion-dollar investments in attractions such as Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim, which is set to be completed by 2025, the emirate is strengthening its position as a preferred destination for travellers and tourism investment.
Abu Dhabi is bullish about the outlook for air passenger demand this year due to the UAE's rapid Covid-19 vaccination programme and the loosening of travel curbs around the world.
“While the Omicron variant may have a temporary effect on demand during the early part of 2022, we expect traffic to double at Abu Dhabi International this year to reach 10.7 million as vaccination programmes progress, government restrictions in markets around the world ease and consumer confidence rebounds,” Mr Al Hashmi said.
In 2021, the airport recorded 74,176 flights, up 21.5 per cent from 61,034 flights in the previous year. Abu Dhabi International’s network also grew to 103 destinations in 2021, from 75 destinations in 2020.
The top five source countries in terms of passenger volumes in 2021 were India with 932,949 passengers, followed by Pakistan (550,728), Egypt (446,883), the US (254,201) and Saudi Arabia (244,954).
The busiest destinations served by Abu Dhabi International were Cairo with 372,456 passengers, Islamabad (209,280), New Delhi (197,012), Lahore (184,315) and Dhaka (182,983), the operator said.
“Our focus on health, safety and the well-being of [Abu Dhabi] travellers significantly enhanced our passenger experience during the year as we launched a fully equipped PCR facility, touchless technology, self-baggage drop systems and smart queuing technology to prevent crowding during peak operations,” said Mr Al Hashmi.
Air cargo volumes last year stood at 711,715 tonnes last year, up 31.8 per cent from the 540,144 tonnes handled in 2020, according to the airport operator.
“The surge in volumes was largely attributed to increases in shipments of general cargo and special products, including express, temperature-controlled, vulnerable cargo and pharmaceuticals,” Abu Dhabi Airports said.
Mail volumes were also on the rise, with 8,767 tonnes passing through Abu Dhabi International’s cargo centre, an increase of 13.1 per cent from the 7,749 tonnes handled in 2020, the operator said.
Air cargo has been a rare bright spot for the aviation industry since the onset of Covid-19 two years ago, with rates increasing due to a surge in e-commerce sales and as pandemic-related supply chain bottlenecks drive up demand for air freight services.
An Iata survey of airline chief financial officers and cargo business bosses showed an improvement in profitability, demand, cargo and employment in an industry battered by the Covid-induced slowdown.