Abu Dhabi International Airport defies headwinds to reach new passenger record

Passenger numbers passed 2 million for first time as global trade with the Middle East suffered its biggest annual decline since the 2008 financial crisis.

An Etihad Airbus 380 lands at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Ravindranath K / The National
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Abu Dhabi International Airport saw record numbers of passengers pass through its gates in July, even as global trade with the Middle East suffered its biggest annual decline since the 2008 financial crisis.

Passenger growth rose by 23.3 per cent against previous year, with 2.1 million people travelling through the airport in July – up from 1.7 million in July 2014.

That’s the first time the airport has handled more than 2 million passengers in a single month. It’s also far ahead of global passenger traffic growth, which the International Air Transport Association estimates as growing at 4.1 per cent this year.

Passenger traffic growth continues to outpace global trade growth, as the demand for flights remains robust even as trade shrinks at its fastest pace since the financial crisis. Trade volumes to and from the Middle East and Africa shrank by 1.1 per cent over the year to June, according to World Trade Monitor data.

“Economic recovery in key travel markets, and reduced fuel prices resulting from the lower oil price, have both been increasing passenger growth,” said Peter Morris, chief economist at aviation consultancy Ascend Worldwide.

As well as upgrading its existing terminals, Abu Dhabi International Airport plans to open a fourth terminal in 2017 at a cost of $3.2 billion to boost capacity to 45 million passengers.

“We’ve made a lot of changes to the airport and have planned for double-digit expansions in capacity through to the opening of the Midfield Terminal,” Ahmad Al Haddabi, the chief operating officer at Abu Dhabi Airports Company, said earlier this year.

The airport expects to accommodate 24 million passengers this year – twice as many as passed through its gates in 2011.

Dubai Airports, the operator of Dubai International and the new Al Maktoum International Airport, also has major expansion plans. Al Maktoum, which will have five runways, aims eventually to accommodate more than 200 million passengers a year – which would make it the world’s busiest airport by a considerable margin. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, the world’s busiest, was used by 96 million passengers last year.

These growth plans form part of a UAE government strategy to capture a big chunk of future aviation passenger growth by investing heavily in aviation infrastructure.

Investing in airport infrastructure and driving up passenger numbers “helps the UAE to become a financial and media centre,” Mr Morris said. “It also gives a boost to the logistics industry, because it enables local airlines to compete for cargo routing services, and to offer competitive prices for major global trade lane flows.”

“It helps the UAE to become a Switzerland in the region – a base for people to stop off between visiting and working in less attractive destinations.”


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