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Profit at fast-growing Emirates airline soars 40 per cent to $1.24 billion

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Emirates, the Middle East’s biggest airline, said Thursday it overcame the effects of temporary runway closures at its Dubai base to pull in a $1.24 billion profit, a 40 per cent gain driven by the rapid expansion of its business and helped by a drop in fuel prices.

The Dubai government-owned carrier is one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, funneling mostly long-haul travellers through its fast-expanding hub in the Gulf commercial centre. That growth has helped make Dubai International Airport the world’s busiest international air passenger hub.

The airline said it benefited from the drop in oil prices last year, giving it some relief on fuel costs in the second half of its financial year. But it also cited a number of challenges affecting profitability, including the effects of the Ebola outbreak and armed conflict in several areas where it operates, the strength of the U.S. dollar — its hometown currency is pegged to the dollar — and Dubai runway work last summer that forced it to ground 19 planes.

Emirates’ earnings for the fiscal year that runs through the end of March of 4.56 billion dirhams, or $1.24 billion, far surpassed the 3.25 billion dirhams it earned during the same period a year earlier.

It was the 27th straight year of profit for the airline, a rare winning streak in the industry.

Sales for the year rose 7 per cent to 88.82 billion dirhams ($24.2 billion). New passenger destinations added over the year included Abuja, Nigeria, Brussels, Budapest, Hungary, Chicago and Oslo, Norway.

Emirates’ success has won it plenty of attention, not all of it welcome. It is embroiled in an increasingly shrill dispute with the biggest U.S. carriers, who allege that Emirates and its smaller Gulf rivals are unfairly poaching passengers by relying on government subsidies. Emirates strongly denies the allegations.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chairman and CEO, cautioned that currency fluctuations, economic uncertainty and “the looming threat of protectionism” will pose challenges for the future. But he said the company was moving into the new financial year “with confidence and a strong foundation for continued profitability.”

“We will continue on our journey of steady and rational growth,” he said.

Emirates’ overwhelmingly wide-body fleet includes more Boeing 777 and double-decker Airbus A380 planes than any other carrier on the planet.

Sheikh Ahmed told The Associated Press earlier this week the airline aimed to increase services “on every continent” by launching new routes and increasing frequencies on more than 140 existing ones. That includes in the United States, where it now flies to nine cities. Orlando will be the 10th when it begins in September.

The airline’s parent company, Emirates Group, which includes the airline and related businesses such as the Dnata ground and travel services provider, reported its profit rose 34 per cent to 5.46 billion dirhams ($1.49 billion) on revenue of 96.49 billion dirhams ($26.29 billion).

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