The Middle Eastâ€™s airline industry has been grabbing prominent headlines over the last few weeks. Some European carriers are appealing to the European Union to intervene in order to slow the aggressive growth of some Gulf airlines, arguing that the growth of Gulf carriers will jeopardise Europeâ€™s position as a global hub for air travel. The European carriers, facing heavy taxes and emissions controls, claim that certain Gulf carriers benefit from government subsidies, preferential treatment and export credit advantages, claims vehemently denied by those carriers. While claims of subsidies are unfounded, European airlines may be lobbying for restrictions to purely protect their own interests in the face of growing competition.
Statistics published by Air Transport World illustrate exactly how strong the growth of some of the Gulf carriers compared to European peers. Passenger growth at Emirates Airlines rose 20.8% in 2009, this against a decline in passenger volumes for most European carriers. Similarly, in 2009 Dubai emerged as the 15th busiest airport in the world and the only airport in the top 15 to see an increase in passenger traffic. The GCC countries, particularly the UAE, have invested heavily in developing the air travel industry over the past decade and expectations are that the local industry, differentiated by service excellence, will continue to gain market share from European competitors.