The “Arab spring” revolutions will have “a tremendously positive effect” on air travel in the region eventually, says an officer of the Arab Air Carrier Association (AACO). Secretary General Abdul Wahhab Teffaha told delegates at Aviation Week’s MRO Middle East conference today in Dubai that he expects the transformation from totalitarian regimes to democracies to be “difficult.”

The number of passengers carried by Arab airlines increased in 2011 despite the political turmoil. According to AACO estimates, its members transported 133 million passengers last year, compared with 125 million in 2010 and 115 million in 2009. The market share in non-Arab city-pairs, basically the international connections through the hubs in the region, contracted slightly from 14.5% in 2010 to 14% last year. But Teffaha said this is due to the temporary collapse in demand for travel through Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

AACO therefore expects the long-term trend to resume this year. “Arab carriers will grow, albeit maybe not at double-digit rates,” Teffaha says. He defended the hub-and-spoke business model, saying, “We copied it from somebody else, but we do it better. If we did not take advantage of our geographic location, we would be doing something wrong.” Therefore, the Persian Gulf region hubs are now “irreversibly established.”

Separately, Teffaha says it will cost AACO members about €50 million ($65.7 million) this year to comply with the European Union emissions trading system, but also says Arab air carriers will be less affected than other airlines because their young fleets are particularly fuel-efficient.