DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The parent company of the Middle East’s biggest airline, Emirates, posted an annual profit Thursday of $1.1 billion as it enjoyed a dip in fuel costs and boosted capacity with the addition of two dozen new planes.
The growth comes at a time of resurgence for the carrier’s home base of Dubai. The Mideast commercial hub has rebounded sharply from a financial crisis that came to a head in 2009 as its vital trade, travel and property sectors benefit from an improving global economy.
Dubai International Airport, Emirates’ home, now rivals London Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport for international passengers.
Emirates Group, which includes the airline and related businesses such as the Dnata ground and travel services provider, said the profit represented a 32 per cent increase over the previous year.
It was the Dubai government-owned company’s 26th straight profitable year — a rare unbroken winning streak in the industry.
Emirates is the largest of three government-backed Gulf airlines that are increasingly challenging Western and Asian carriers for long-haul travellers.
It and rivals Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways have turned their desert hubs into major transcontinental transit centres packed with duty-free shops and teeming with passengers connecting to flights from around the globe.
Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates’ chairman and CEO, acknowledged growing competitive pressures and said a major runway overhaul in Dubai would prove challenging in the months ahead. But he said the carrier remains poised for further growth.
“We are moving into the new financial year with confidence and a strong foundation for continued profitability,” he said.
Revenue for the fiscal year, which ran through the end of March, rose 13 per cent to $23.9 billion.
The company’s sales were helped by a surge in passenger numbers, which were up 13 per cent to 44.5 million.
Emirates took delivery of 24 new wide-body planes during the fiscal year, including 16 of the double-decker Airbus A380 aircraft and eight Boeing 777s.
The airline operates more of both types of planes than any other carrier, and has dozens more of each on order. Its fleet now boasts 217 aircraft in total.
While the additional planes resulted in higher overall fuel costs, average prices per gallon of jet fuel dipped 4 per cent during the year, the company said.
Among the new destinations Emirates added over the past financial year were Boston, Kabul, Stockholm and Kyiv.
The carrier last year began operating out of a new 20-gate concourse linked to its existing terminal at Dubai International that is purpose-built to accommodate the mammoth A380 aircraft.
The airport ranked second behind Heathrow in terms of international passengers carried in 2013, but topped the London hub in the first quarter of this year.
Emirates’ growth could be slowed in 2014, however, as the airport undertakes a much-needed runway overhaul that began last week. The project, which runs into July, forced Emirates to cut flights to 41 cities and switch flight times on others.
Sheik Ahmed estimated the runway project will cost the company 1 billion dirhams, or $272 million, in lost revenue this year.
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