Aviation is a vital sector of the UAE economy contributing significantly to national GDP. Aviation and logistics also have a major impact on tourism, hospitality, trade and finance, promoting and strengthening economic diversification.
A key fact underpinning the success of the aviation industry is the UAE's strategic location, which has made it a truly global hub for air travel, a one-stop connection facilitating flights to a vast range of destinations across the world. In addition, the expanse, reach and appeal of the country's national airlines, including the multi-award-winning Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways, have ensured that passenger numbers continue to increase at the UAE's seven airports. As indigenous airlines prosper in a challenged global aviation industry, there has been a corresponding expansion in passenger and cargo throughput at the UAE's airports. Ongoing developments will see these trends continue.
Capacity at the UAE's airports, which handled about 100 million passengers in 2014, will increase to 250 million passengers by 2020. At the same time, the UAE's airports are investing up to US$50 billion in development with smooth and efficient operations being a key focus.
Dubai International Airport (home to Emirates Airline) was the world's busiest airport in 2014, having moved 70.4 million passengers through its facilities, up 6.1 per cent on 2013. Its rise to the top position was meteoric, since as recently as 2010 it was only ranked tenth with a throughput of 28 million passengers. The airport's Dh28 billion (US$7.6 billion) expansion programme could boost capacity to 90 million passengers per year by 2018. Dubai also moved a little over 2.4 million tonnes of cargo traffic in 2014, enabling it to retain third position after South Korea and Hong Kong.
The opening of Concourse A, the world's first purpose-built A380 facility, has helped to maintain strong growth at the airport, whilst Emirates continues to add to its fleet and route network for cargo and passenger services. Flydubai, the national low-cost carrier also operates out of Dubai.
Al Maktoum International Airport, the centrepiece of the Dubai South city project, commenced cargo operations in 2010 and passenger services in 2013. This is part of a long-term migration strategy to shift general aviation from Dubai International to Al Maktoum International. Eventually, the five-runway, four-terminal airport will be able to handle 220 million passengers a year as well as 16 million tonnes of cargo.
Abu Dhabi International Airport welcomed a record 20 million passengers in 2014, up 20 per cent on 2013. Cargo throughput also rose 12.8 per cent year on year. Recent airport developments have streamlined services at the airport, particularly for the handling of A380s. Delivery of the iconic Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC) in 2017 will further increase capacity to approximately 40 million. Located between the airport's two runways (hence the name), the spectacular new terminal will feature a 52-metre-high ceiling and an 8,400-square-metre indoor park.
As in Dubai, the annual double-digit growth that Abu Dhabi Airport has been recording in the past decade is directly impacted by the aggressive expansion of the national carrier, Etihad Airways and is boosted significantly by Etihad's strategic equity partnerships and codeshares.
Sharjah International Airport reported a 11.76 per cent increase in passenger traffic in 2014 based on a throughput of 9.5 million passengers, primarily as a result of aggressive expansion by Air Arabia, the region's first budget airline, which flies to 100 destinations from the airport. However, cargo handled at the airport fell to 240,000 tonnes in 2014, from 295,402 tonnes in 2013.
Air Arabia also operates from Ra's al-Khaimah International Airport, which it is hoped will boost passenger traffic at this facility to about 600,000 by 2015.