Dubai's airport operator raised its forecast for annual passenger traffic this year by an additional two million, anticipating the influx of travellers at Dubai International Airport (DXB) will reach 28.7 million as travel restrictions in key markets start to ease.
"We're projecting 57 million for next year at the moment and 28.7 million for this year", Paul Griffiths, chief executive of operator Dubai Airports, told The National at the Dubai Airshow. "If we can see those numbers come through that solidly thus far, then that gives us a pretty strong case for optimism."
Mr Griffiths said returning to pre-Covid levels of growth is likely by 2025 but getting back to full numbers by the end of 2024 would be "an excellent achievement".
The airport has recovered 80 per cent of point-to-point traffic, through transit travel was only at 20 per cent of pre-Covid levels, he said.
DXB may handle a record number of arrivals in the next six weeks of this year, he said.
In response to an increase in travel demand, Dubai International Airport will reopen its Concourse A on November 24, which will bring the airport to full capacity after 20 months of reduced operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This will bring the airport's total capacity to 100 million passengers per year, which could expand to 120 million over the next few years through improving technology to facilitate faster passenger flows.
Dubai World Central, the emirate's second hub, will re-open its passenger terminal in May 2022 after operations were shutdown due to the pandemic, Mr Griffiths said.
"We're doing some work on the northern runway at DXB so we will need the capacity to be able to facilitate that," he said.
Beyond that, the DWC passenger terminal's continued operations will depend on the pace of recovery: a rapid rebound will see it remain open while a sluggish pace will lead to its closure, he added.
"We're not displacing any traffic or any growth by having that strategy in place, we're keeping all the options open for all of our airlines to operate exactly when they want to," Mr Griffiths said.
DWC's cargo operations are strong, recording 585 thousand tonnes in third quarter and is at 125 per cent of pre-Covid levels, he said.
"That business has gone crazy ... DWC is a major logistics hub now," he said. "DWC is really strong on the freight side and the passenger side will start to increase once DXB is full and we can no longer cope with demand at DXB."
DXB expects to remain the world's busiest international airport in 2021, retaining the title since 2014, he said.
DXB has suspended the so-called "use it or lose it" airport slots rule during the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing airlines to retain valuable airport slots as the pandemic grounded flights.
"We may have to change that regime probably by next summer once things bounce back ... you've got to call it at a certain point, because you can't hold on to capacity that some airlines aren't using whilst there is demand from other airlines that are desperate to use the slots," Mr Griffiths said.
DXB is actively seeking the right talent to run the business and manage the growth that is coming back, Mr Griffiths said. It had laid off 34 per cent of its staff during the pandemic akin to other hubs.
In terms of airport retail segment, which is highly dependent on footfall, DXB is seeing the average spending per passenger "rising through the roof" but the volumes have not recovered fully, he said.
"The future will be the complete disaggregation of the point of sale from the point of delivery," Mr Griffiths said, by giving passengers the option to order duty free goods inflight and choose where to have them delivered.
In October, passenger traffic at the airport more than doubled year-on-year to 3.4 million passengers, Dubai Airports said.
From January to October, the airport handled 20.7 million passengers, down 6 per cent on the same 10-month period last year.
The world’s busiest international airport expects the recovery to continue in the fourth quarter of 2021 as a result of easing travel restrictions globally, the opening of the six-month Expo 2020 Dubai from October, the Dubai Airshow held from November 14 to November 18 and the annual rush of tourists to the emirate during its cooler winter months.
Dubai Airshow 2021 - in pictures
Dubai International Airport’s passenger volumes in the third quarter reached 6.7 million, the operator said. It did not provide a comparative figure for the same period a year ago. The airport is currently serving 83 per cent of the destinations, compared with before the Covid-19 pandemic.
South Asia retained its rank as Dubai International Airport’s largest contributor of traffic led by India (2.8 million passengers) and Pakistan (1 million passengers). Egypt was ranked third with 753,000 passengers, followed closely by the US (710,000 passengers) and Turkey (598,000 passengers).
The top three cities by traffic were Cairo, Istanbul and Addis Ababa.
Cargo volumes hovered around 2019 levels during the third quarter. Dubai International Airport recorded 581,972 tonnes of freight during the period, bringing the total volume for the first nine months of 2021 to 1.7 million tonnes, a yearly increase of 25.3 per cent.