Ras Al Khaimah International Airport expects to boost passenger traffic by as much as a third in 2015 after a turbulent year.
The addition of services from Air Arabia, which started operations from the northernmost emirate this month, has helped to compensate for the loss of the low-cost carrier RAK Airways.
“We are expecting to hit between 350,000 to 400,000 passengers this year,” said Mohammed Qazi, the acting chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah airport in an interview at the Dubai Airport Show. “If the trend continues, then we will be exceeding 600,000 passengers in 2015 – when we get a full year with Air Arabia.”
Air Arabia started operating from the airport on May 6, after the RAK Airways, stopped operations.
Hit by political instability in the region and high operating costs, the local carrier stopped its flights for the second time in five years early this year.
Ras Al Khaimah, which is marketing itself as a tourism destination, has benefited from recent international hotel openings such as Banyan Tree, Rotana, and Hilton’s luxury Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Visitors from the UAE, Germany and Russia, are the three biggest source markets for the emirate. They account for 65 per cent of tourists.
But it is increasingly trying to promote itself in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. The emirate reported 1.3 million visitors last year and 53 per cent year-on-year jump in its tourist numbers for the first quarter.
Like other northern emirates, Ras Al Khaimah is also capitalising on the increased passenger growth through Dubai International Airport which expects to handle as many as 70 million passengers this year.
The emirate has also traditonally been popular among visitors from Russia and the CIS countries.
Mr Qazi said that there has been no discernible impact on the tourism trade to Ras Al Khaimah despite the political crisis in the Crimean Peninsula.
“We never had direct flights from Ukraine, but in terms of the Russian side we have seen no effect on our operations,” said Mr Qazi. “In fact, the volumes are still there. People are still coming,” he added.
Some new charter flights from Russia, such as Ural Airlines, have also started operating to RAK airport, he said. The airport serves mostly charter flights.
“We are expecting to see more charter operators operating into Ras Al Khaimah in the next 12-18 months, especially from Russia, the CIS region, eastern and western Europe,” said Mr Qazi.
To accommodate this increase, RAK airport is planning to add capacity at its arrivals hall this year and next.
“We are ready to support Air Arabia operations for the next 18-24 months, without any issues. But other than that as an airport, you are constantly planning ahead for the coming 3-5 years,” said Mr Qazi.
“We have plans to do further expansions of the airport – whether it’s the terminal itself or the cargo terminal or the general aviation areas, or the parking stands and the taxi ways.
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