Abu Dhabi International Airport expects to post growth of about 11 per cent in passenger numbers this year as Etihad Airways expands new routes and the airport attracts more global airlines, said the head of Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac).
More than one million passengers have flown through Abu Dhabi in each of the past four consecutive months, a record for the airport.
"I anticipate we will hit 12 million or a little above it this year," said James Bennett, the chief executive of Adac. "Next year we will probably be crossing 13 million."
Etihad has added seven new destinations to its network this year as it increases the number of passengers it carries from more than 7 million last year.
In addition, several new airlines have launched services to the capital, the latest of which is Arik Air, Nigeria's largest international carrier. More international carriers will connect with Abu Dhabi next year.
"With double-digit growth in passenger numbers every year … you can see the need for additional airport capacity," said Mr Bennett. "Our facilities … will not be able to accommodate that in the long term, so we need additional capacity."
Earlier this month, Adac announced work on the long-delayed Midfield Terminal building would go ahead from the second quarter of next year. Part of a Dh25 billion (US$6.80bn) to Dh27bn redevelopment and expansion plan, the 700,000 square metre terminal building is planned to be capable of handling between 27 million and 30 million passengers a year when it opens in 2017.
The go-ahead for the project comes despite the twin challenges posed by competition from other regional airports pushing ahead with ambitious expansion plans and a gloomier global economy.
Bahrain, Muscat and Doha are all raising airport capacity. Dubai International Airport's annual capacity is being raised from 60 million passengers to 90 million by 2018, with a new facility, Al Maktoum International Airport, serving the emirate's aviation needs beyond that.
"Aviation in this region is experiencing very strong growth and we anticipate that will continue," said Mr Bennett. "There will always be competition but there's also a lot of need in this region and we think there are opportunities for what we are doing here, what's going on in Dubai and Doha and elsewhere."
By tapping growing demand for air travel from India and the Asia Pacific, Abu Dhabi hopes to avoid any negative impact from the cooling economies of Europe and North America.
"Economic cycles come and go but we are building for the future," Mr Bennett said.
"This project has been very thoroughly reviewed by ourselves and the government of Abu Dhabi and there's been a lot of focus on that."