Abu Dhabi airport beats ash plume

The week-long flight ban into Europe caused by volcanic ash clouds from Iceland last month was not enough to halt a double-digit rise in passenger numbers

London was the most popular destination from the capital last month.
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The week-long flight ban into Europe caused by volcanic ash clouds from Iceland last month was not enough to halt a double-digit rise in passenger numbers at Abu Dhabi International Airport. London was the most popular point of origination and destination with the UAE capital last month, the operator Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) said yesterday, helping to boost traffic figures by 10 per cent to 866,475, compared with April last year.

The rise continues a steady recovery out of the lows recorded during the worst of the economic downturn in the first quarter of last year. The figures were a great result considering the circumstances, said Ahmed al Haddabi, the senior vice president of airport operations at ADAC. More than 1,000 flights to and from the UAE were grounded during the six-day flight ban, the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said.

Despite this, the UAE's total monthly flight movements also increased 10.6 per cent last month, passing 52,000 flights. Rounding out the top five destinations were Doha, Bangkok, Manila and Jeddah, ADAC said. The US market recorded the biggest increase, with passenger traffic growing 160 per cent compared with the same period last year. That was due to the introduction of Etihad services to Chicago and the subsequent code-sharing agreement it struck with American Airlines.

Cargo volumes, an even greater indicator of economic health, rose 21.3 per cent last month, ADAC said. While all indicators are pointing up for aviation and the global economy, trade bodies stressed that the growth was coming from a low base, having been benchmarked against last year's global economic downturn. "Steady improvement of this magnitude tells us that world markets continue to rebound and airport infrastructure serves as a lifeline for that recovery," said Angela Gittens, the director general of Airports Council International.

"The 12-month rolling results present an equally encouraging sign, registering positively across the boards for the first time in two years. "However, we must remember that traffic volumes in the first quarter of 2010 are still below pre-crisis levels. Compared to first quarter 2008, the global passenger numbers are still down by 3 per cent. Compared to the first quarter of 2007, numbers are up by a mere 1.5 per cent."

Confidence seems to be returning to Abu Dhabi residents, who are expected to travel more this summer than they did last year, said Jim el Murr, the general manager of Salem Travel. "The confidence is coming back, slowly, even among corporate travellers," he said. Hotels were reporting rising occupancy levels due to the number of trade missions and delegations being organised by the UAE Government, he said, while outbound travel to Thailand was in high demand despite the political strife there.

Travel to Malaysia from Abu Dhabi was also in high demand, said Mr el Murr, perhaps due to a perception that it was a safer alternative to Thailand. @Email:igale@thenational.ae