The future growth of Arab airlines is assured despite the many crises that continue to impact the region.

Addressing the Arab Air Carriers’ Organization (AACO) AGM in Sharjah Nov. 21, AACO secretary general Abdul Wahab Teffaha said history was a good indicator of the future. In the 52 years since AACO was established, passenger traffic growth has continued across the Middle East despite wars and financial and geopolitical crises.

In the six years since 2011, Arab airlines recorded an annual average growth in RPKs and ASKs of 12% and 12.3%, respectively, Teffaha said. Passenger traffic between 1965 and 2016 grew 96-fold.

“If those growth figures show anything, they reflect the robustness of the growth factors in our region and that Arab airlines, which were able to record massive growth levels across the years, will continue,” he said.

A key indicator, he said, was the ratio of passengers to population. In 1965, there were 3 million passengers in the Arab air transport market; in 2017 there will be about 301 million. This means that the ratio of passengers to population has grown from 3.1% to 72.3%. In the 10-year period from 2006 to 2016, the ratio increased from 33.1% to 69.9%.

“Those numbers emphasize the resilience and sustainability of the Arab air transport market’s growth, and that the market is far from reaching the point of mature growth,” Teffaha said.

Reinforcing confidence in continued growth, 60% of the Arab world population is under the age of 25. This means the Arab air transport market will have more than 250 million new potential passengers in the coming years.

Teffaha also sees the potential for more airports in the region to emerge as global hubs the way Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha airports have developed, leveraging their geographic locations that place them within seven hours of at least 5 billion people. Combined with the gradual liberalization of the Arab air transport market and a focus on hospitality that treats passengers “as guests rather than travelers,” growth opportunities will be robust across the region.

The secretary general listed some concerns that could hinder growth, including infrastructure and airspace congestion, growing protectionism, and dealing with aviation security issues while avoiding disruption to operations.

But Teffaha said air travel had changed to become “an essential human need rather than an elitist product” and that would inevitably lead to “a continuous and unstoppable rise in air traffic.”

Karen Walker