Dubai International Airport is on track to become the fastest growing airport in the world after racking up a record 40.9 million travellers last year and bucking the trend of declining air travel in much of the rest of the world. Traffic grew by 9.2 per cent as Emirates Airline added new routes and frequencies, Dubai launched its new low-cost carrier flydubai, and the 130 airlines serving the airport followed global trends and lowered ticket prices to aggressively compete for customers amid the economic downturn. By contrast, the global aviation industry is suffering from a decline in air travel due to the economic downturn. Worldwide traffic fell by 4.2 per cent for the first 11 months of the year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said this week. "If we can set records in a tough economic environment, the sky is the limit for what we can achieve when conditions improve," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum (ck), the chairman of Dubai Airports and chief executive of Emirates Airline. This year, Dubai Airports expects the growth to continue and is projecting 13.6 per cent growth, to 46 million passengers. Official airport rankings will be announced later in the year, when Airports Council International (ACI) produces its annual report. In 2008, Dubai was the 20th-largest airport and the sixth biggest in international traffic, ranked above Singapore and below Hong Kong. It recorded the fastest growth among the top 30 hubs, at 9 per cent - higher than Rome, at 6.9 per cent, and San Francisco at 4.7 per cent. The same year Abu Dhabi International Airport took top honours as fastest growing airport overall, rising by 30.2 per cent, as it embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign to bring in new carriers and Etihad Airways opened new routes and frequencies. The two airports have benefited as Middle East airlines wage battle against the likes of Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa for the lucrative Europe to Asia route, attracting passengers with new aircraft and services and shorter transit times via the Gulf. As a result, some two-thirds of passengers travelling through Dubai International are in transit, with the remainder calling the UAE its destination or embarkation point, airport officials said. Emirates was the largest source of Dubai Airport's growth, which received 10 new wide-bodied planes and started flying to Luanda and Durban last year. In addition, North America became one of the fastest growing destinations from Dubai last year due to Emirates recently opening non-stop services to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Another reason for the growth was flydubai, owned by the Government of Dubai, which launched out of Terminal 2 in June and opened 11 routes in quick succession including Baku, Aleppo and Djibouti. Other airlines opened routes to Dubai last year including Hainan Airways of China and Kingfisher Airlines from India. Travel and tourism is one of Dubai's traditional engines of growth, accounting for more than 25 per cent of its GDP. The latest figures suggest the sector is coming back to life after passenger traffic recorded flat growth in the beginning of last year. While British tourists visiting the UAE ? a major market for Dubai ? has declined, Russia and Germany are still strong source countries, said Ghassan Aridi (ck) the chief executive of Alpha Tours in Dubai. "Hotel prices are now more encouraging for those seeking 'affordable luxury'", he said. Outbound travel from the UAE is undergoing similar changes as residents seek affordable holidays in Thailand, South Africa and Australia, rather than Europe, he said. However, summer holiday travel suffered due to fears over the H1N1 global pandemic, he said. Cargo volumes at Dubai airport were up 5.6 per cent last year, to 1.93m tonnes, and finished with double-digit increases during the last quarter of 2009, including a 26 per cent jump in December. Devaraj Mohan, a sales officer with Premium Freight Services in Dubai, said demand last year was disappointing overall, although the Middle East still performed better than Europe and North America, driven by strong demand to Afghanistan. email@example.com
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