The political protests that have rocked the region this year have had a positive impact on airports in the UAE.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai have both been absorbing regional tourists that have travelled to the UAE rather than unstable destinations such as Tunisia, Bahrain, Oman and Egypt.
This is because the UAE is still widely regarded as an oasis of calm in a volatile region and it has not been affected by the protests that have erupted elsewhere. Dubai has benefited from the temporary relocation of expatriate workers from places such as Bahrain and Libya.
The increase in tourists and business travellers is reflected in the continually increasing passenger numbers seen so far this year at the country’s two main airports, Dubai International and Abu Dhabi International.
In June, Dubai International recorded an 8.8 per cent year-on-year increase in passenger traffic in May. Total traffic to the airport so far this year is 20.5 million, an 8.6 per cent rise on the same period in 2010.
Dubai is busy expanding its airport and Concourse 3, which will accommodate the Airbus A380 aircraft, is already under construction
Last week, Dubai Aviation City Corporation moved a step closer to achieving its long-term plan for passenger traffic growth by inviting prequalification for the expansion of Terminal 2.
It is not only Dubai that is expanding its passenger-handling capacities. In the capital, Abu Dhabi International airport also enjoyed a 14 per cent year-on-year growth in passenger traffic in May with 943,000 passengers.
A key project currently planned at Abu Dhabi airport is the $6.8bn midfield terminal. This project has been severely delayed, but once it is complete it will offer an additional capacity of between 27 million and 30 million passengers a year at the capital’s airport. Construction tenders are now due on 11 September.
These capacity increases are crucial if the airports are to accommodate the projected increases in passenger traffic going forward.
Dubai airport has ambitions to top Hong Kong airport as the world’s third busiest airport by the end of this year, with an anticipated 51 million passengers. By 2015, the airport hopes to overtake London Heathrow for the top sport when passenger numbers are set to surpass 75 million.
Abu Dhabi is hoping to have 40 million passengers once the construction of the midfield terminal is complete.
At its annual general meeting in June, Montreal-based International Air Transport Association (Iata) said that the UAE would be the world’s second fastest growing market for passenger traffic at 10.2 per cent by 2014, second only to China.
The Middle East region as a whole is tipped to have the fastest growth rate at 9.4 per cent over the next four years. By then, the UAE will be ranked seventh globally for international passenger traffic at 82.3 million.