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Passenger traffic up for Dubai

The number of passengers using Dubai International Airport grew by 15.6 per cent in the first 11 months of the year compared with the same period a year earlier.

The number of passengers using Dubai International Airport grew by 15.6 per cent in the first 11 months of the year compared with the same period a year earlier.

The increase signals traffic gains for Emirates Airline and flydubai as well as the 130 foreign carriers serving the airport.

Passenger numbers reached 42.9 million to the end of last month compared with 37.1m in the corresponding period last year, driven by significant increases in travel to the Indian subcontinent, the GCC and western Europe.

The positive results in Dubai, the largest airport in the Middle East and the fifth-largest international gateway in the world, according to Airports Council International, are being read as an indication that UAE airlines are on track for a positive year after dealing with major uncertainties brought on by the global downturn.

Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, said the airport was crossing a "traffic threshold" after passenger numbers surpassed 4 million in October and last month, with a monthly count of 4 million travellers forecast to become the norm next year.

Passenger numbers have gradually picked up after the global downturn, and now airlines expect business travel to be the next step in the recovery.

"It's really about the premium business traffic. It's linked to the strength of the corporate sector, and the pickup in world trade growth, which is continuing," Richard Batty, a strategist at Standard Life Investments in Edinburgh, told Bloomberg.

Revenue at Air France-KLM, for example, is forecast to rise to 27.2 billion (Dh131.29bn) for the year from next April, up 11 per cent on the year to the end of March this year, according to Credit Suisse estimates, largely because of a rise in premium traffic.

Emirates has become one of the most profitable airlines in the post-downturn world, announcing net profit of US$925 million (Dh3.39bn) in its April to September period this year, a fourfold increase on the same period a year ago.

With more than 150 wide-body aircraft in operation, Emirates is preparing to receive significant deliveries from Airbus and Boeing in the next 12 months, enabling additional route launches.

Etihad Airways, after launching operations in 2003 and building up its services to 65 routes as of this month, is on the cusp of reaching financial milestones for this year and next, said James Rigney, the chief financial officer of the airline. "When we take out the aircraft ownership costs and look at the operating performance of the business, we are profitable," he told bankers this month in London. "With a fair wind, we believe, we are on target to break even in 2011," he added.

The budget airline flydubaiis expected to continue its rapid expansion next year. It launched in June last year and now flies to almost 30 cities, including points in Russia, Djibouti and Afghanistan. It has 13 aircraft plans to receive an additional 10 next year, all Boeing 737-800s. The airline is now the second-largest operating from Dubai International Airport.

Air Arabia, which in 2008 many industry analysts said was the world's most profitable airline, plans to continue its regional expansion next year with the opening of its fourth hub, in Jordan. It already has bases in Sharjah, Alexandria and Casablanca.

In October, RAK Airways relaunched operations and now flies to Jeddah, Cairo, Dhaka, Chittagong and Kozhikode.

The International Air Transport Association has warned that while demand for air travel is growing, an increase in fuel prices could pose a challenge for airlines.

igale@thenational.ae

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