Members of the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO) must act as “one body” to secure the continuation of the unprecedented growth, AACO chairman and Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan said.

Speaking at the AACO annual general meeting in Abu Dhabi, Hogan told delegates, “Although we compete fiercely in the marketplace, it is important we present as a unified stance to those outside, who would like to see the global aviation landscape look more like it did in the early eighties [when] no one in Europe lost any sleep over the threat of competition posed by Middle East carriers. European, America and Asian carriers were the kings of the sky, free to roam as they pleased. Well, that is not the case anymore.”

The unified stance is important for a number of key reasons, including the continued opposition to regulations that hamper the ability to compete on a level playing field with rivals in Europe, America or Canada and “legislation that penalizes us unfairly, such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme,” Hogan said.

Another reason to worktogether is to foster innovation and progress at every opportunity, such as environmental, technical or political.

“If the last decade has been about the rise of the Middle East airlines, the next 10 years will be defined by the ways in which, over the short-term future, we take advantage of the opportunities we worked so hard to create,” he said. “Where stasis and stagnation characterize so much of the industry today, Middle East carriers offer energy and ‘can do’ in abundance.”

According to AACO, member airlines are expected to post a well-above world average growth in cargo and passenger traffic this year, despite social and political unrest in the region. RPKs are forecast to grow with 7% on 2010 and RTKs by 6.5%. Member airlines are forecast to carry 124.7 million passengers in 2011, an increase of 5.5% over 2010.

Photo: AACO chairman and Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan