Last year saw the Middle East's largest budget air carrier set new records, writes Lucy Barnard of The National.

Passenger numbers at Air Arabia (Dubai: AIRARABI) soared 13% last year, with a record 5,301,484 budget jet-setters taking to the skies through the carrier.

The Middle East's biggest budget airline said yesterday that the rise in traffic came as a result of route expansion. Air Arabia said it added nine destinations during the year to reach a network covering a total of 82 cities. Carriers in the UAE and the Middle East have benefited from rising passenger traffic as its aviation hub status grows.

"Air Arabia continues to witness significant year-on-year growth in passenger numbers, and this demonstrates the growing popularity of the airline's value for money services," said Adel Ali, the group chief executive.

New routes added by Air Arabia last year included flights from its base in Sharjah to Kazan, Rostov, and Ufa in Russia; Odessa in Ukraine; Astana in Kazakhstan; Ta'if in Saudi Arabia; Salalah in Oman; and Erbil and Basra in Iraq.

The airline took delivery of six new aircraft during the year as part of an order for 44 aircraft placed in 2007, which will more than double the size of the company's fleet by the time they are delivered in 2016. The airline is due to receive five more aircraft this year.

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