Abu Dhabi: Despite the current global economic situatin, Etihad Airways has set itself a target of 25 million passengers a year and hopes to connect with up to 100 major business and leisure destinations by 2020.

In his speech during the 2nd Middle East Aviation Outlook Summit, CEO James Hogan said Etihad was looking at sustainable growth and had placed orders for 152 aircraft by 2020.

Etihad is taking a bullish approach this year by introducing new routes to Melbourne, Athens, Istanbul and Chicago and increasing frequency on the Amman, Beirut, Brussels, Cairo, Geneva, Manila, Milan and Moscow routes, Hogan said.

About 52 per cent of the airline's business comes from Abu Dhabi-bound passengers.

"Abu Dhabi being a hub as a transfer point gives us confidence ... We are well positioned especially with ADAC's [Abu Dhabi Airports Company's] new Terminal 3 where we will be a serving a total of 43 extra destinations," said Hogan.

Acknowledging that 2009 presents a tough challenge, he added, "But we continue to grow and move forward."

Mohammad Al Bulooki, vice-president of airline marketing and aero revenue at ADAC, said no projects had been delayed due to the economic recession, and that the first phase of work on the Terminal 3 extension had been finalised.

"In the next two weeks, Terminal 3 will be 100 per cent operational. We were slightly behind schedule due to some technical issues and not because of the economic situation. In 2008 the airport received 9.01 million passengers and 41 airlines, which is a ten per cent growth from 2007," Al Bulooki told Gulf News, adding that airlines like Etihad, Lufthansa, Singapore and NAS Air are increasing the number of flights to Abu Dhabi.

"We are constantly looking for partnerships with new airlines connecting to Abu Dhabi. With the introduction of Terminal 3 the total capacity has risen from 5.5 million people to 12 million people, adding a 10 per cent growth in passengers since January," he said.

Commenting on the future for ADAC, Al Bulooki added that the company has been observing and learning from other major new airport terminal launches.

looking up n Middle East airlines expected to purchase 1,000 aircrafts by 2018. n Passenger traffic capacity among Middle East airlines increased 10.8 per cent in 2008. n In 2009, expected passenger traffic operations in the Middle East will grow at 1.2 per cent, still the highest growth in comparison to the worldwide average, which will drop by 3 per cent. - D.E.S