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Abu Dhabi Faces Up To Airport Capacity Challenges

Abu Dhabi Faces Up To Airport Capacity Challenges

Fast-growing airport must keep up with Etihad’s growth ahead of Midfield Terminal Building’s launch

Not unlike its high-profile neighbour up the highway, Abu Dhabi International Airport (ADIA) is now in a juggling act as it reconciles existing capacity with rising demand.

ADIA reported 15.6 per cent growth in passenger traffic in February – interestingly, four per cent faster than Dubai International, even if the latter’s 5.6 million passengers significantly eclipsed the 1.4 million passing through the UAE capital’s main airport.

The underlying message is clear: through Etihad Airways’ growth, and its increasing number of codeshare and joint equity deals, Abu Dhabi is now on a roll.

Etihad recorded a 48 per cent jump in net profits to $62 million last year, on the back of a 27 per cent rise in revenues to $6.1 billion. Etihad’s success naturally benefited ADIA, which handled 16.5 million passengers, a 12.4 per cent rise on 2012.

New routes this year include Medina, Jaipur, Rome, Yerevan, Los Angeles, Dallas, Zurich and Perth – and it’s not just the launch destinations that have to be factored into operations and planning, but a slew of increased frequencies, most notably to the Subcontinent, as Etihad’s partnership with Jet Airways takes flight.

Last week Etihad visited London and New York to scout for investors as it seeks to raise $2 billion to finance its fleet deliveries this year. The airline will take delivery of 18 aircraft in 2014: three A320s; three A321s; two A330-200s; one A330-200 freighter; one A380; two B787-9; one B777-300ER and five B777-200LRs.

Underpinned by the Tourism & Culture Authority’s commitment to grow business and leisure tourism, the airport is only going to get busier.

Ensuring space can be found for Etihad’s growing fleet and keeping up with existing and projected growth – not just passengers, but cargo too, whose volumes are similarly on a steep curve, up 13.8 per cent in February – is now on the top of Abu Dhabi Airports Company managers’ in-trays.

Ahmad Al Haddabi, chief operations officer at Abu Dhabi Airports, said such momentum will “no doubt” have its challenges in terms of capacity management, quality assurance and efficiency.

The 700,0000 sqm Midfield Terminal Building will provide the necessary capacity release when it opens in 2017, but the growth will need to be managed in the interim.

Previously announced projects include a 6,015 sqm building where passengers will catch buses to their planes, a 2,000-person lounge which will serve as a transfer facility between Terminal 3 and remote stands and 3,200 sqm Etihad Business Lounge.

Saj Ahmad, aviation analyst at Strategic Aero Research, said as ADIA is not nearly as congested as Dubai International, he doesn’t see any “red flags” in the near term.

“There are always challenges with growth and how it’s managed, but ADIA has less intrinsic pressure than Dubai,” he said.

“Dubai has Emirates and flydubai to cater for – the world’s two fastest growing airlines. ADIA really only has to cater for Etihad. And if you look at Etihad’s new fleet induction too, it’s significantly slower than Emirates, so there’ll be less pressure on the ground too.

“I see ADIA has a good solid plan that allows for growth, contingency and stability. The real challenge is getting Midfield Terminal operational on time.”

To that end, Abu Dhabi will be keen to ensure it doesn’t join Bangkok, Berlin, Doha and London Heathrow Terminal 5 in the list of delayed openings in three years’ time.

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