Cool Economy, Hot Airports: Despite the gloomy global headlines, some airports continue to enjoy brisk growth

some airports continue to enjoy brisk growthDuring the first half of 2014, Dubai’s main airport saw passenger traffic growth of just 6%, less than half the 15% pace it saw in 2013. But don’t be fooled: this was only because of airport maintenance that left just one runway open during May and June, resulting in a 26% reduction in flight activity. Things didn’t get back to normal until late July. August growth was again in the double digits.

Considering global economic weakness, that’s impressive—and proof that the Arabian Gulf continues to rank high on the list of world’s fastest growing airline markets, driven, if nothing else, by the bullish expansion of its home carriers.

The global economy is indeed slowing—and indeed making its sluggishness felt at major world airports. During the first seven months of 2014, not a single airport among the world’s busiest 25 saw double-digit traffic growth, according to data published by Airports Council International. Not even Istanbul’s main airport, with growth just shy of 10%, made the cut. Just two years ago, by contrast, the main airports of Jakarta, Bangkok, Singapore, Seoul and Istanbul—and indeed Dubai—all saw double-digit increases. Istanbul was up a massive 20%.

In the Gulf, however, not only is Dubai’s main airport back to a double-digit growth gallop. Such white-hot growth never paused in the first place at the peninsula’s other two global hubs, Doha and Abu Dhabi (which aren’t in the world’s top 25—Doha is about the 60th busiest and Abu Dhabi roughly 90th; Dubai is fourth). In September, the latest month of data available, Doha enjoyed traffic growth of 10% y/y. That same month, Abu Dhabi’s traffic surged 24%. A look at flight schedules this winter (October through March), provided by Diio Mi, shows Saudi Arabian airports still seeing a lot of new seats too. And to the north in Turkey, Istanbul’s main airport—capacity constrained and now growing from a higher base, which challenges growth in percentage terms—might be slowing to a high single-digit growth pace. But the city’s other airport, Sabiha Gökçen, ranks no less than No. 1 in the entire world in terms of percentage growth this winter among the top 100 airports worldwide (excluding Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport, which…

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