Bubble Trouble? The Gulf’s Big Three keep growing, repeatedly quieting naysayers. Can this last forever?
In 2013, London Heathrow was once again the world’s busiest airport for international traffic. True, that does include some shorthaul hops like flights to Paris and Dublin. But No. 1 is No. 1. Until, that is, it’s No. 2.
This year, absent a sharp break with current trends, London Heathrow will lose its international crown to Dubai, an airline market that’s everything the U.K. is not: fast-growing, expansion minded, lightly taxed, replete with airport investment and overseen by a government cognizant of aviation’s macroeconomic value.
Dubai, of course, is not alone. Just down the highway is Abu Dhabi, and also in the neighborhood is Doha, both of whose airports also enjoyed double-digit growth in 2013. Together, all three airports handled 106m passengers during the year, more than Atlanta’s 96m and nearly as many as the 111m handled by New York City’s three main airports. And there’s a lot more to come. Dubai just opened a brand new airport, which could someday be the world’s busiest, period, not just busiest for international traffic. Doha will soon open a new airport. Abu Dhabi plans to open a new airport terminal in 2017. And Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad, along with FlyDubai, have close to 900 aircraft on firm order between them, almost double the 479 planes they currently fly. How much growth is too much growth?
Or as Reuters asked: “Is the rapid expansion of Middle East airlines creating a bubble to rival the tech and telecoms boom of the late 1990s? Spearheaded by Dubai-based Emirates, airlines in the Gulf region are growing at a breakneck pace, adding planes and investing in ambitious airport expansion in a bid to create world-class travel hubs and lure businesses and tourists. But the pace and foundations of this growth are setting off alarm bells among industry analysts, rival airlines and even aircraft manufacturers, who wonder whether a fragile airline market can absorb all the new seats.”
The key here is not what was written but when it was written. Can you guess?
The answer: in December 2003, more than a decade ago. Indeed, every time a Gulf carrier places a mind-blowing aircraft order, predictions of gloom abound. Yet year after year passes without any popping bubbles. Which begs the question: how has this growth been possible? And a corollary question: how is it changing the dynamics of global…
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