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Strong first half statistics from Abu Dhabi International Airport support its ongoing expansion, despite difficult times for airlines and similar infrastructure developments in the region.

Some 4.3m passengers used the International Airport in the first six months of this year - a 38.6% increase from the same period in 2007. The total number of aircraft movements increased 16.8% by the same measure, to 45,920 from 39,300. Meanwhile, the volume of cargo handled registered a more modest but still impressive growth of 15.8% in the first half of 2008, to 172,760 tonnes from 149,210 tonnes in the comparable period of 2007.

June's monthly figures are also very respectable: passenger numbers were up 35.6%, cargo volumes 13.2% and aircraft movements 14.1% on the same month last year.

Such positive results come at a time when much of the air transport industry is feeling the squeeze of higher oil prices (which have hit $145 a barrel by some measures), while the threat of low economic growth and even recession in Western Europe and the US has also caused worries that consumers will cut back on air travel. Some airlines have already folded and more are predicted to be in trouble, whilst US giants Northwest Airlines and Delta have agreed to merge (pending antitrust clearance) to benefit from economies of scale and thereby reduce overheads.

According to Abu Dhabi International Airport CEO Rudy Vercelli, "It is clear Abu Dhabi is currently enjoying a reversal, or bucking‚ of the industry's international trends." Vercelli attributed the airport's performance to the "the strength and growth of the home-based airline, Etihad Airways, and the increasing understanding Abu Dhabi has as a natural, strategic and competitive hub for long-haul transit traffic connecting East and West," he told local press.

The results bode well for the future. Abu Dhabi is investing heavily in its airport infrastructure as part of its plan to become a transportation hub and to support an expected increase in the number of both leisure and business tourists. The emirate's main international airport and Etihad, its flag carrier, are expected to play key roles in the diversification of Abu Dhabi's economy.

Some $6.8bn is being invested in Abu Dhabi International Airport to extend its capacity. A third terminal is slated for completion this year, and is set to increase capacity from 7m to 12m passengers annually. Furthermore, the so-called "midfield terminal", due to be opened by the end of 2011, will boost this yet further to 20m. The new terminal will have an initial 42 gates and will cover some 55,000 sq metres, according to finalised details published in June by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the architects of the master plan.

In the long term, the terminal will be scalable to 90 gates, allowing the airport as a whole to handle 50m passengers per year. Therefore the airport's capacity can be expanded according to demand over the long term, to avoid the creation of excess capacity - a concern that has been voiced over other airport developments in the region This would appear to be wise given the uncertainty over the future of air travel in the coming decades.

Cargo represents a major part of the airport's business and will continue to do so as the authorities build its reputation as a logistics and transhipment hub. The strategy foresees the airport's freight handling capacity increasing from 300,000 tonnes a year today to 500,000 by the end of 2009 and 1m tonnes in 2011.

With the airport already performing strongly in difficult times, and a strategy in place, Abu Dhabi International Airport is already performing strongly. Further development of the airport should help to ensure that the upward trajectory continues.

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