Abu Dhabi: Etihad Airways said on Tuesday its total revenue for the first quarter of 2014 reached $1.4 billion (Dh5.14 billion), marking a 27 per cent increase over the same period last year.

Meanwhile, passenger numbers saw double digit growth to reach 3.2 million between January and March – a 14 per cent increase over the 2.8 million passengers from the same period last year. The growth rate is more than double a recent estimate from the International Air Transport Association that passenger demand will increase 5.8 per cent this year on a global basis.

Etihad Cargo also outperformed the global market, carrying 127,821 tonnes of freight and mail in the first quarter – a 26 per cent increase in tonnage compared to Q1 2013. The airline’s cargo revenue rose by 26 per cent to $243 million, placing Etihad Cargo on track to become a billion dollar business in 2014.

The growth in cargo was due to stellar performance in the India, and China markets, which grew by 32 per cent, and 14 per cent respectively. The launch of new routes to Brazil, and Vietnam also helped increase cargo volumes, along with the launch of a joint freighter service with DHL serving Pakistan and the GCC markets.

“Although the global airline industry has faced challenges such as higher-than-expected fuel prices and fierce competition in key international markets during the first quarter of 2014, we have continued to outperform the passenger and cargo markets, and raise the bar even further for Etihad Airways,” stated James Hogan, president and CEO of the airline.

During the first three months of the year, Etihad signed new codeshare agreements with Air Europa, and JetBlue, while an existing codeshare with airBaltic was expanded. Etihad also obtained regulatory approval to acquire a 49 per cent share of Air Serbia.

Etihad Airways’ fleet expanded to 95 aircrafts in the first quarter of 2014, marking a 30 per cent increase in the fleet size over Q1 2013. The airline’s passenger carrying capacity measured in Available Seat Kilometres (ASK) increased by 21 per cent year-on-year to 19.2 billion.

“Etihad is growing strongly as a business with new routes and aircrafts being added on a regular basis. This combines with high profile marketing and well-regarded product,” said John Strickland, director of UK-based aviation advisory, JLS Consulting.

He added, “Gulf carriers are well placed geographically to exploit numerous emerging markets from their Gulf hubs.”