UAE soars to the top, dominates regional aviation sector

Country ranked first among Arab and regional airlines, fifth worldwide
UAE soars to the top, dominates regional aviation sector
Aviation sector set for strong growth in 2024

The UAE has successfully maintained its leading position in the region and worldwide when it comes to the efficiency and quality of air transport services. Within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) aviation industry, the UAE takes the lead and experiences consistent growth in the public sector, thanks to hosting major events that significantly contribute to boosting air traffic. Projections indicate a strong and positive growth trajectory in the aviation sector for 2024, as stated by Kamil Al-Awadhi,  International Air Transport Association (IATA) regional vice-president for Africa and the Middle East.

The UAE’s aviation sector takes the lead

In terms of capacity measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), the UAE ranked first among Arab countries, regionally, and second globally. It also secured the seventh position globally in terms of air transport service efficiency and the tenth position in the number of operating airlines, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s 2022 Global Competitiveness Reports.

Furthermore, the UAE holds the top spot among Arab and regional countries and stands fifth globally in terms of air transport quality, as highlighted in the IMD World Competitiveness Booklet 2023 issued by the World Competitiveness Centre of the World Institute for Management Development (IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland.

According to data published by OAG Aviation, a provider of airport and airline data, the UAE ranks first among the world’s 20 largest air transport markets in terms of the growth of scheduled seating capacity for flights at its international airports.

Large absorptive capacity

In 2022, UAE airports served a total of 101 million passengers. Among them, 29,926,799 were arriving passengers, while 29,172,619 were departing passengers. The remaining 41,912,205 passengers were transit travelers.

During the first eight months of 2023, UAE airports experienced significant growth in passenger numbers. Specifically, they received 86,936,854 arriving passengers, representing a growth rate of over 39 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, which had recorded 62,340,434 passengers.

Elena Sorlini, managing director and interim chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Airports, has predicted that by the end of 2023, Abu Dhabi International Airport will have accommodated more than 22 million passengers.

The inauguration of the Passenger Terminal (A) has solidified the capital’s position as a global gateway and a strategic hub for tourism and trade. The UAE maintains strong international relations in the field of air transport, boasting 187 agreements and memoranda of cooperation with numerous countries worldwide. This strengthens the aviation sector’s capacity to support the state’s policies of economic and trade openness, and fosters opportunities for trade and tourism growth between the UAE and various countries across the globe.

Sustainability and growth of UAE’s aviation sector

In this context, Juan Carlos Salazar, Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), lauded the UAE’s leadership in both regional and global aviation sustainability and growth. He acknowledged the robust post-pandemic rebound of UAE airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah, noting Dubai’s position as the current leader in international passenger numbers, Sharjah’s strong traffic growth, and Abu Dhabi’s burgeoning and dynamic infrastructure. Salazar further highlighted the UAE’s continuous progress as a model for global civil aviation development.

Read more: Dubai Airports ups annual passenger forecast to 64.3 mn

Abu Dhabi International Airport

Soaring towards the top, Abu Dhabi International Airport, currently the UAE’s second-largest and one of the world’s fastest-growing, boasts connections to over 94 destinations in 56 countries. Home to Etihad Aviation and fueled by ambitious expansion projects, this award-winning hub anticipates welcoming over 20 million passengers in the coming years, serving as a crucial departure, arrival, and transit point for domestic and international journeys.

Expansion of the second largest airport

To keep pace with its ever-burgeoning air traffic, Dubai is gearing up for a colossal expansion of its second-largest airport, Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai World Central. The ambitious project aims to transform the airport into a global aviation powerhouse, capable of handling a staggering 120 million passengers in just six to eight years. Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, boldly projects that the airport’s ultimate potential could reach 240 million passengers annually, solidifying its position as a premier aviation hub on the world stage.

Best international airport in terms of passenger numbers

In terms of the number of foreign passengers, Dubai International Airport (DIA) topped the list of most international airports for the eighth year in a row. In this regard, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths noted: “We are obviously quite thrilled to top the list of the world’s busiest international airports for the ninth consecutive year, but it comes as no surprise given Dubai International’s stellar performance throughout 2022 and the upsurge in traffic in the final quarter.”

In a media statement shared with Economy Middle East, Griffiths added “The increase in demand for air travel was universal in 2022, but what set DXB apart was the dedication of our people and the meticulous planning and preparation by each and every service partner that makes up Dubai’s amazing airport community. Our preparedness backed by collaboration enabled us to not just accommodate the rapid increase in demand but also deliver tangible enhancement in service quality and overall airport experience for the 66 million passengers that passed through DXB during the year.

A significant increase in the number of passengers

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, director-general of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), announced that the number of passengers travelling through the country’s airports during the first quarter of 2023 increased by 56.3 percent compared to the same period in 2022. This increase indicates the success of the aviation sector in restoring pre-COVID-19 passenger traffic levels.

According to Al Suwaidi, during Q1 2023, the number of passengers through the UAE’s airports reached approximately 31,862,635, an increase of more than 11.48 million passengers from the same period in 2022, where about 20,381,324 passengers were recorded.

This year, passenger traffic at Dubai airports is predicted to surpass pre-pandemic levels with a projected 86.8 million passengers. DIA recorded 64.5 million passengers in the first three quarters of 2023, demonstrating a stellar performance. This represents an increase of 39.3 percent compared to the same period in 2022 and 1 percent above 2019 levels.

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