Emirates fastest growing among world’s Top 3 airlines

Dubai-based Emirates airline, which last month overtook Chicago-based United Airlines as the world’s third largest carrier in terms of monthly capacity (available seat kilometres, or ASKs), has scheduled 7.3 per cent more seats in September 2011 compared with the same month last year, emerging as the fastest growing among the world’s three top airlines.

According to data compiled by Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation and Innovata, Emirates’ average weekly capacity for September 2011 stands at 3.97 billion seat kilometres, about 272m seat kilometres more than the 3.70b ASKs it scheduled per week in September 2010.

On the other hand, Delta Airlines, the world’s largest carrier in terms of capacity, has scheduled 2.1 per cent less seats this month (6.2b average weekly ASKs) than September last year, and No. 2 American Airlines has added just 1.6 per cent seats this month (4.8b average weekly ASKs).

Among the Top 5 airlines, however, Germany’s Lufthansa is the fastest growing this month, which has scheduled an additional 11.1 per cent ASKs to its September flights, with average weekly ASKs of 3.52b compared with 3.17b in the corresponding period last year.

Overall, in a sign that the global economy is recovering from the worst financial slowdown in almost a century, the world’s airlines are scheduling 4.9 per cent more seats in September than the same month in 2010, translating into a 6.7 per cent increase in ASKs, according to CAPA estimates.

These are similar to the capacity increases witnessed in peak summer month of August, says CAPA, suggesting that the leading airlines are confident about growth prospects. Worldwide capacity for an average week in September 2011 stands at 132.87b ASKs, compared with 124.49b ASKs in the same month of 2010.

Expansion among the world’s Top 25 airlines is led by Turkish Airlines (+30.8 per cent), although that carrier showed some growing pains in its latest financial report, which showed that the airline had one of its worst half-year performances in the first six months of 2011 on spiralling fuel costs and heavy forex losses.

“Emirates (+7.3 per cent) moved ahead of United Airlines this month, while its hub, Dubai, looks set to become the world’s second biggest international airport by seats later this year, leapfrogging Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Paris Charles de Gaulle,” the CAPA report said.

According to a CAPA analysis, in less than a couple of months from now, Dubai will become the world’s second busiest airport in November 2011, from the current No. 4 spot that the Middle East’s busiest airport occupies in the world. Dubai recently overtook Frankfurt International Airport in terms of monthly passenger traffic, handling 4.7m passengers in July 2011 – an increase of 400,000 passengers over its previous monthly record.

Dubai International Airport’s growth has been nothing short of phenomenal, as 10 years ago, it was only the 99th largest airport in the world in terms of passenger traffic, sitting between Shanghai and Mumbai. Last year it was the world’s 13th busiest, behind Madrid Barajas and ahead of New York JFK, and by the end of this year, it’ll be the second busiest.

Year-to-date (until July-end) traffic at Dubai airport rose 9 per cent to 29.3m, and Dubai hopes to top 50m passengers this year and it has the runway and terminal capacity to handle a 50 per cent increase over that.

According to Airports Council International, for the year to May 2011, London Heathrow was the largest airport in the world, with 24.8m international passengers and growth of 9.9 per cent year-on-year. Paris CDG was second with 21.4m, up 6.9 per cent, followed by HKIA, with 20.9m passengers, up 5.5 per cent.

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths has said in the past that the airport aspires to take over the number three ranking from Hong Kong International Airport by the end of the year. (In July 2011, HKIA handled around 5m passengers, with growth of 5.7 per cent year-on-year).

However, a CAPA analysis of seat capacity has shown that the upcoming Winter 2011/2012 schedule will catapult Dubai into second spot – ahead of HKIA and Paris CDG.

Analysts hasten to add that while Dubai may remain behind London Heathrow for a couple more years, they expect it to reach the No. 1 rank before 2015, the year Dubai has set for itself to overtake the coveted position.

CAPA’s Airport Rankings tool shows that airlines at Dubai Airport will offer more than 1.3m seats per week in November 2011. Dubai will hold this advantage through December and into the New Year.

The capacity hike comes about as a result of the seasonal upswing in capacity offered by airlines based in the Gulf, as well as increases in traffic connecting between Europe and the Asia Pacific via Dubai. Also aiding DIA’s leap is the effect of lower seasonal traffic levels in Europe during the early winter period, which will push Paris CDG down to fourth spot as Christmas approaches.

DIA’s stated ambition is to outstrip London Heathrow as the busiest international airport in the world, a position it estimates it can reach by 2015. By 2020 Dubai Airports expects DIA to handle around 98m passengers per annum.

However, London Heathrow has little spare capacity for expansion, with just two runways already operating at near peak capacity. HKIA faces runway and airspace capacity constraints, and is pushing for closer collaboration with the other four airports in the Pearl River Delta, as well as the development of a $17b third runway. Of its larger rivals, only Paris CDG is relatively unconstrained in terms of capacity, but has been consistently outstripped in terms of growth by DIA.

If recent rates of growth continue, Dubai could maintain its position (from November 2011) as the world's second busiest international airport through 2012 and could overtake Heathrow before 2015, CAPA maintains.