Abu Dhabi airport grows fast, but lags behind globally-connected Dubai

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-10-2 16:28:29

The ongoing 18th global air travel congress World Routes in Abu Dhabi exposes the domestic rivalry between the two major airports in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"With a year-to-date growth of 21 percent (as of August 2012), Abu Dhabi International Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in the world," said James Bennett, CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), at the three-day World Routes, which kicked off Sunday. With this rate, Abu Dhabi, whose airport just celebrated this year its 30th jubilee, hosted 9.68 million passengers from January through August.

In addition, the UAE capital outperformed its rival and neighboring emirate Dubai, whose airport grew by 20 percent in the same month.

Both UAE hubs do indeed very well amid global economic uncertainty. For the full year of 2011, only two airports managed to achieve a year-on-year growth of above 20 percent, namely Indira Ghandi International in Delhi (up 21.7 percent) and Brazil's Rio de Janeiro (20.5 percent higher).

In absolute figures, the UAE's internal rivalry shows a different picture. While Dubai eyes some 56 million passengers in 2012 (after 51 million passengers in 2011), Abu Dhabi's target for this year stands at 12 million travelers. Dubai lured last year some 10 million tourists, while Abu Dhabi welcomed 2 million visitors.

But while nine-tenths of Dubai's passengers are landing in Dubai just to change plane, "Abu Dhabi's passenger base is much more balanced as some 45 percent of people landing in Abu Dhabi also stay there for business or holidays," according to Bennett.

In the civil aviation language, such travelers are called "OD (origin-destination) passengers".

The skewed image of the two airports has many reasons, one of them being Dubai's first-mover advantage. Dubai's $4.5-billion Terminal 3 gave the business metropolis a boost when it opened in October 2008, paving the way for an exclusive departure and landing hub for Dubai's state-owned carrier Emirates Airlines.

Secondly, Abu Dhabi, or "AD" as it is called among locals, still lacks leisure and tourist attractions. Even residents in Abu Dhabi prefer driving for 45 minutes to neighboring Dubai simply because AD lacks mega-malls like the Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping center, or the Mall of the Emirates, which even hosts an artificial ski slope.

The ADAC CEO asked passengers and airliners for some patience. "Abu Dhabi's second phase of development includes the Midfield Terminal. It is under construction and will be completed in 2017 and will have a capacity for 30 million people per year."

Abu Dhabi's state-owned carrier Etihad Airways is the main driver of passenger growth, "and growth we achieved mainly through partnerships we entered in recent years," said Etihad CEO James Hogan at the World Routes.

Etihad bought in December 2011 nearly one-third shares of German low-cost carrier Air Berlin, while it does code-sharing with 38 other airlines.

But amid a tricky world economy, even Dubai's Emirates Airlines, the fastest growing carrier in the world, cannot continue without partnerships. A month ago, the Emirates signed up for a partnership with Australia's Qantas.

The carrier, with the image of a kangaroo on its tail fin, will be the first foreign airline that will be allowed to use Dubai's Terminal 3.

Meanwhile, operations started at Dubai World Central (DWC), the new airport in the west of Dubai. Designed to host 150 million passengers until 2030, DWC has ambitions to become the largest airport in the world. "It is not yet clear if the old Dubai International Airport will move to DWC or if only some airlines will be shifted there," said Dubai Airport CEO Paul Griffiths.

Posted in: Mid-East

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