Dubai airport could break passenger record this year: CEO

A view of Dubai is being seen from a plane window upon takeoff in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Picture: NurPhoto via AFP

A view of Dubai is being seen from a plane window upon takeoff in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Picture: NurPhoto via AFP

Published Feb 19, 2024


Dubai's air hub has "every chance" of breaking its record for passenger traffic this year after surpassing pre-pandemic levels in 2023, Dubai Airports' CEO told AFP on Monday.

Dubai International, the world's busiest airport for international passengers for nearly a decade, hit 87 million visits in 2023, beating the 2019 figure of 86.4 million despite the Gaza war, new figures showed.

Chief executive Paul Griffiths cited early recovery in Dubai -- the United Arab Emirates' business and financial centre -- from the pandemic and a quick rebound in airport staffing levels as key factors.

"We were ready sooner. We were back to 100 percent capacity much sooner, and as a result, our traffic has rebounded far more quickly," he said, adding that Dubai's record of 89.1 million passengers, set in 2018, could be surpassed this year.

"I think there's every chance of going above it. It could be a new record," Griffiths said. "I've had a peek at the January numbers and let's say it gives me some cause for optimism."

Dubai Airports' official forecast for this year stands at 88.8 million passengers, just shy of the record, despite Israel's war against Hamas which began in October.

"We've demonstrated the absolute resilience of the network that we operate," said Griffiths, adding that Dubai's airport serves 104 countries via 102 airlines.

"If there is a bit of a dip in demand from one destination or point of origin, then that tends to be compensated by the rest of the network filling the space," he added.

Cargo traffic was up 20.4 percent in the last quarter, perhaps because of attacks on shipping through the Red Sea by Yemen's Huthi rebels, Griffiths said.

He would not discuss security arrangements for the airport, beyond saying they were "well developed".

The Huthis fired drones and missiles at key infrastructure in the UAE in January 2022, killing three oil workers and starting a fire on the grounds of Abu Dhabi airport.

Griffiths said the growth in traffic to and from fast-developing Saudi Arabia had been "phenomenal", with Riyadh now Dubai's second busiest route behind London.

"If you look at the growth of travel and tourism across the world, we are only scratching the surface in this region," he said.

"The region is waking up to the fact that travel and tourism is a fantastic driver of growth for the economy, and also it isn't really competitive, it's collaborative, and it's complimentary.

"If you've got more cities that people want to visit, the more cities and options there are, the more people will come to the region."