Despite going through one of the most turbulent periods in its recent history, passenger traffic in the Middle East has held up surprisingly well. In fact, it has grown faster than much of the rest of the world.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai have both been absorbing tourists that have travelled to the UAE rather than unstable regional destinations, such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Within the region, it is the UAE that has underpinned growth and for good reason. The UAE has two major airlines, Emirates and Etihad Airways, as well as two budget carriers, Flydubai and Sharjah-based Air Arabia.
Regionally, Emirates is undeniably the airline to beat. The Emirates Group achieved revenues of $15.6bn in the financial year ending 31 March 2011, a 26.4 per cent rise on the previous year. Flydubai which began operations in 2009 has huge ambitions for growth. It aims to operate its 21 aircraft to 50 destinations by the end of 2012. Dubai also plans to beat Hong Kong as the world’s third busiest airport by the end of this year, with an anticipated 51 million passengers.
In Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways recorded its strongest ever third quarter with revenues of $1.1bn and an 18 per cent rise in passenger traffic to 2.2 million. The strong growth of the UAE air travel market will be a comfort for the billions of dollars due to be invested in airport projects in the country, but aping the success of Emirates will not be easy for its regional rivals.