Abu Dhabi airport passenger numbers surge in first quarter on higher demand

The airport received 2.56 million passengers in the three-month period

People checking in for flights at Abu Dhbai International Airport, which recorded a 218 per cent jump in passenger numbers in the first quarter of this year. Antonie Robertson / The National

Abu Dhabi International Airport handled 2.56 million passengers in the first quarter of 2022, a more than four-fold increase from the same period last year due to rebound in demand, as well as new routes and services, Abu Dhabi Airports said on Wednesday.

The surge in passenger numbers came as Covid-related travel restrictions across the globe eased and markets reopened, boosting the appetite for air travel.

The number of flights rose 39 per cent annually to 22,689 in the three-month period, Abu Dhabi’s airport operator said.

“The first quarter continued to build on the momentum we saw in Q4 2021 as travel restrictions eased further, markets reopened and airlines deployed capacity to accommodate the resulting surge in demand,” said Shareef Al Hashmi, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports.

Relaxation of travel restrictions to and from India, reopening of Australia and Singapore and the removal of mandatory PCR testing for passengers travelling to Abu Dhabi contributed to the surge in passenger numbers, he said.

The 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.

The emirate is bullish about the outlook for air passenger demand this year due to the UAE’s rapid Covid-19 vaccination programme and the easing of travel curbs around the world.

With multibillion-dollar investment in attractions such as Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim, which is set to be completed by 2025, Abu Dhabi is strengthening its position as a leading tourist destination.

The capital has taken measures such as reducing business licence fees to bolster its tourism sector during the pandemic as it seeks to diversify its economy.

India drove the most of the air passenger volume to Abu Dhabi in the first quarter, with 515,927 people, followed by Pakistan (253,874), the UK (170,620), Saudi Arabia (137,582) and Egypt (127,009), the airport operator said.

The expansion of operations by Etihad Airways, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi and Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, the launch of 10 new routes, as well as the introduction of the new Go First and Pegasus Airlines, added impetus to the growth at Abu Dhabi International during the January to March period.

Etihad Airways was among the groups that added impetus to growth at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Photo: Abu Dhabi Airports

Etihad Airways, a major contributor to Abu Dhabi airport’s growth, was also bullish about continued passenger demand growth this year and plans to expand its route network and workforce to meet the anticipated market recovery, the airline said in March.

Load factors doubled with the average reaching 70 per cent during the quarter compared with 35 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, Abu Dhabi Airports said.

The airport now offers flights to 99 destinations on 26 airlines compared to 81 destinations on 18 carriers during the first quarter of 2021.

Abu Dhabi International also handled 144,114 tonnes of cargo during the first quarter, down 15.7 per cent compared to the same period last year, primarily due to the increase of cargo capacity to support passenger operations, Abu Dhabi Airports said.

Updated: May 11, 2022, 3:40 PM