x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Stopovers lift Abu Dhabi passenger count

Abu Dhabi Airports Company handles 2.5 million passengers in the first quarter.

An increase in the number of travellers using Abu Dhabi International Airport as a stopover between Bangkok and London contributed to a 13.8 per cent rise in passenger traffic in the capital in the firstquarter of the year. Doha, Manila and Bahrain rounded out the top five connection destinations, Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) said yesterday, after it reported handling 2.5 million passengers in the first quarter to put it on track for a record year.

"Air traffic, in general, is rebounding strongly," said Ahmad al Haddabi, the senior vice president of airport operations at ADAC. The results mirror data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which said February represented strong demand and that airlines were "gaining lost ground". Middle East airlines recorded traffic growth of 25.8 per cent, the highest of any region, which was aided by the development of local travel markets within the region.

But the IATA said the scale of Abu Dhabi's increase this year was skewed somewhat by a comparison with poor figures recorded in February last year. "It must be noted that February 2009 marked the bottom of the cycle for passenger traffic during the global economic recession." Abu Dhabi airport has handled an increasing number of passengers each year for the past five years and was named the fastest-growing airport in 2008 by the Airports Council International.

Abu Dhabi's larger numbers result to a large degree from a rapid expansion drive at Etihad Airways, the UAE's national carrier, which has taken delivery of more than eight aircraft a year since its founding in 2003. Much of Etihad's business focuses on connecting Europe and Asia through an Abu Dhabi transit centre. The growth has driven airport officials to invest in new facilities for the airline, beginning with the new Terminal 3 that opened last year, which will be followed by the Midfield Terminal, scheduled to open in 2015.

A number of airlines have also begun serving the UAE capital in the past 12 months after an aggressive ADAC marketing campaign. ADAC has worked with other government departments to bring more visitors to the emirate to boost trade and tourism. Air France will be the next major carrier to begin flying to the capital, starting May 3. Air cargo movements, which have been hit worldwide by current flight restrictions in Europe, rebounded in the first quarter even more strongly than passenger traffic, rising 22 per cent to just over 100,000 tonnes.

Aircraft movements, which include arrivals and departures by passenger airlines, business jets and air freighters, rose by 13.9 per cent over the quarter to 27,000. igale@thenational.ae