Dubai International Airport expects to hit the 90-million passenger mark for the first time in 2025. The figure is expected as its home airlines start to take delivery of wide-body aircraft and as more foreign airlines launch flights to the major Gulf hub.
The airport expects its annual passenger traffic to reach 93.8 million in 2025, surpassing its busiest year in 2018 when it recorded 89.1 million travellers, and “hopefully we'll get the magic 100 million number not long after,” Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, told The National on Wednesday, during the Dubai Airshow.
Next year it anticipates handling 88.2 million passengers.
“These numbers could prove conservative, particularly if we see the impact of the additional aircraft over the next few years,” Mr Griffiths said.
The 2025 forecast would position the Dubai hub neck-in-neck with Georgia's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – which is the world's busiest when combining both domestic and international passengers. It recorded 93.7 million travellers in 2022.
On Wednesday Dubai Airports said it expects to exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2023 with a new forecast of 86.8 million travellers, driven by strong growth in the first three quarters of the year. It revised its forecast upwards from an earlier projection in August of 85 million passengers. The world’s busiest hub by international traffic recorded 86.4 million travellers in 2019.
The emirate is expected to host a flurry of global events that are expected to attract an influx of international visitors to the city.
These include the Dubai Airshow that started on November 13, the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels on November 20, and the Cop28 UN climate summit at the end of the month.
Emirates and sister airline flydubai on Monday ordered 125 wide-body aircraft worth $63 billion at list prices during the Dubai Airshow. Flydubai's order of 30 Boeing 787 Dreamliners marks the airline's first wide-body jet addition to its all-Boeing fleet of 737 narrow-bodies.
Fourth quarter boost
DXB recorded 22.9 million passengers in the third quarter of this year – the highest quarterly traffic since 2019, Dubai Airports said on Wednesday.
This takes the total year-to-date traffic for the first nine months of the year to 64.5 million passengers, up 39.3 per cent compared to the same period in 2022 and 1 per cent above 2019.
Dubai Airports is expecting “record-breaking” numbers to continue in Q4 and 2024, it said.
If the airport continues to record an average monthly rate of 7.6 million passengers in the fourth quarter, then it may raise its annual forecast for the fourth time this year, Mr Griffiths said.
India remained DXB’s top country destination in terms of traffic volume with 8.9 million passengers in the first nine months of the year, followed by Saudi Arabia with 4.8 million passengers, and the UK with 4.4 million passengers.
The top cities by traffic were London (2.7 million passengers) and Riyadh (1.9 million), closely followed by Mumbai (1.8 million) and Jeddah (1.7 million passengers).
Airport expansion plans
With a current capacity of 100 million passengers annually at DXB, the use of new technology, expansion and refurbishment of existing infrastructure and more efficient use of space is expected to propel the airport’s capacity to 120 million, Dubai Airports said.
To meet the anticipated growth and prepare for the incoming jet deliveries, Dubai Airports is expanding Terminal 2, as flydubai continues to expand, with more retail areas, seating areas and lounges, Mr Griffiths said.
“Flydubai has grown 66 per cent since the pandemic was over, so that sort of growth has put pressure on Terminal 2 so that needs a big uplift,” he said.
Passenger capacity at Terminal 3 Concourse C will be expanded, while Concourse E is set to be rebuilt with double the capacity, he said.
“We anticipate that demand in Terminal 3 will increase as the relationship between flydubai and Emirates moves ever closer and the order for wide-bodies placed by flydubai is going to be very significant in that regard.”
Flydubai's operations are currently split between Terminal 2 and Terminal 3.
“I anticipate a lot of its wide-bodies will use the facilities in Terminal 3 on routes where there is quite heavy and extensive codeshare exchanges between Emirates and flydubai,” Mr Griffiths said.
As slots for aircraft at DXB run out, some of flydubai's narrow-bodies will be moved in increments to DWC, he added.
Air cargo at DXB gained momentum in the third quarter, registering a surge of 12.3 per cent year on year, to reach 446,400 tonnes, according to the statement.
“The strong performance this year has helped level out a double-digit contraction in cargo recorded at the end of last year,” Dubai Airports said.
The hub recorded 1.3 million tonnes of cargo in the first nine months of the year, declining less than 1 per cent year on year.
Israel-Gaza war impact
Asked about the effect of the Israel-Gaza war on DXB's business, Mr Griffiths said that the industry has faced geopolitical and economic headwinds in the past and that there is a strategy in place for handling these challenges.
“We're such a large hub now, with two-thirds of the world's population accessible within eight hours flying time at Dubai, so that when one market softens another one grows,” he said.
DXB serves 250 destinations in 104 countries through 95 airline customers, which gives it “resilience and buoyancy”, he said.
“We can be optimistic that this global spread and the aircraft orders of the home carriers, that represent confidence in the market.”
The return of Chinese travellers will also help compensate for potential weakness in other areas.
“We're waiting for China to rebound, and of course, that will be such a strong and dramatic contribution to our traffic numbers, it will overcome any issues from other markets.”
“We know that's going to be a flood” when Chinese traffic comes back in full force, he said.
Abu Dhabi airport's new Terminal A
Abu Dhabi International Airport's new Terminal A opened this month to travellers, adding more passenger capacity in to the UAE.
“Abu Dhabi and Dubai have a different traffic base and demographic and it's perfectly justifiable to have two different hubs,” Mr Griffiths said.
“Dubai is quite a road trip from Abu Dhabi and therefore for Abu Dhabi to have a high-quality facility is a perfectly rational thing to do.”