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Originally published Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 12:07 AM

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Debt crisis failed to impede Emirates' growth

Last year the global financial crisis finally burst the economic bubble of Dubai, hitting mainly the real-estate, construction and financial...

Middle Eastern giant

Emirates, based in Dubai, is an influential Boeing customer with an outspoken chief

Revenues: $11.8 billion in the fiscal year ending March 2010.

Profit: $964 million, up 416 percent over previous year.

Fleet expansion: Last year added four Airbus A380s, 10 Boeing 777-300ERs and one Boeing 777 freighter for a total fleet of 142 aircraft.

Order book: At fiscal year-end its orders stood at 146 aircraft, worth $48 billion at list prices. Subsequent orders include 32 Airbus A380s and 30 777s.

Top executive: Tim Clark has been Emirates' president since 2003.

Source: Company reports

Last year the global financial crisis finally burst the economic bubble of Dubai, hitting mainly the real-estate, construction and financial sectors in the extravagantly built Middle Eastern city.

In the fallout, the Dubai government reined in some ambitious plans. One government-owned company whose growth plans were severely cut back was Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE), formed with a grand plan to create various aviation-related businesses.

The aircraft leasing unit of DAE was forced to off-load most of the 200 Boeing and Airbus jets that it had ordered in 2007.

Yet Dubai's Emirates airline, also government-owned but highly profitable, was not reined in. Indeed, most of those DAE orders were switched to wide-body jets and transferred to the Emirates order book.

Emirates President Tim Clark said his airline and the airport in Dubai continued to grow throughout. Outside observers, he said, "assumed that because of issues of debt, the whole place was folding, that it would be a ghost town with tumbleweed blowing down Sheikh Zayed Road," where Dubai's skyscrapers are concentrated.

"Au contraire. It is growing apace. The number of visitors to Dubai grows all the time."

The air-traffic growth is rooted in geography and technology.

With its central location between Europe and Asia, and Emirates' fleet of new, ultralong-range planes like the 777, 787 and A350, Dubai has become a hub from which passengers can reach almost any major city on Earth.

Emirates traffic grew 20 percent between April 2009 and April 2010, Clark said. And he projects that the airport, which currently handles 45 million passengers per year, will grow with the Emirates fleet to handle 95 million within eight years.

That expansion wouldn't be possible without the hubris that is a Dubai trademark. Clark said that when other airlines are fazed by the latest global crisis, his instinct is to double down.

"When we had the first Gulf War and everyone ran away, we grew our business," he said. "When we had the Asian meltdown in 1998, the Asian currency crisis, it looked terrible. ... We said, 'Yah boo (a dismissive British schoolboy phrase). We'll grow our business into the Asian market.' We made money when everybody else lost."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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