ABU DHABI – Air Arabia, a low-cost airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reported a net profit of 78 million dirhams (21.25 million U.S. dollars) in the first quarter of 2008, surging 81 percent over the same period in 2007, local newspaper Gulf News reported on Monday.

In the first quarter of 2008, the Sharjah-based airline achieved a turnover of 383 million dirhams, representing an increase of 59 percent compared with 241 million dirhams in the first quarter of 2007.

The number of passengers served by Air Arabia in the first quarter of 2008 reached 757,000, up 31 percent compared with 577, 000 passengers in the 2007 period.

The airline’s average seat factor, which means passengers carried as a proportion of available seats, stood at 85 percent for the first quarter of 2008, up two percent compared with 83 percent in 2007’s first quarter.

“The high price of oil and rising inflation is a challenge to the air transport sector across the globe. However, the rapid and strong economic growth of this region contributes to a sustained and subsequent market and travel growth,” Air Arabia’s chief executive Adel Ali said.

“This quarter has seen a continuation of the growth of our fleet as well as destinations,” he added.

Air Arabia purchased two new Airbus A320 aircraft in the first quarter of 2008, which increased its fleet size to 13 planes.

The airline launched two new routes to India, making its destination network in India covering 11 cities the largest one of any Middle East-based carrier.

Launched in October 2003 and modeled after leading American and European low-cost carriers, Air Arabia is the first and largest low-cost carrier in the Middle East and North Africa. It currently provides services to 39 destinations in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.