In spite of the many pressing issues that the region faces, the growth of Arab airlines remains all but assured.
This was the assessment of Arab Air Carriers’ Organization (AACO) Secretary General Abdul Wahab Teffaha, which he shared during his address at the AGM in Sharjah.
Teffaha said history was a good harbinger of the future. In the half century since AACO was established, passenger traffic growth has continued to develop across the Middle East in spite of wars, and financial and geopolitical catastrophes.
Since 2011, Arab airlines have tallied an annual average growth in RPKs and ASKs of 12% and 12.3%, respectively, Teffaha divulged. Passenger traffic between 1965 and 2016 also 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,” Teffaha said.
A solid indicator, he claimed, 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,” said Teffaha.
Doubling down in his belief of Arab airlines’ continued growth, 60% of the Arab world population is under the age of 25. This means the Arab air transport market will cater to over 250 million new potential passengers in the years to come.
Teffaha also recognizes the potential for more airports in the region to be transformed as global hubs the way Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha airports have progressed, making the most out of their geographic locations that place them within seven hours of at least 5 billion people.
Pair that with the consistent liberalization of the Arab air transport market and a keen eye on hospitality that treats passengers “as guests rather than travelers,” growth opportunities will be robust across the region.
The secretary general also shared some concerns that could slow down growth, including infrastructure and airspace congestion, growing protectionism, and dealing with aviation security issues while avoiding disruption to operations.
But Teffaha remarked that air travel had evolved 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.”