Dubai Airports chief projects return to pre-Covid passenger volumes by 2024

Dubai airports 'ready to go' once global travel restrictions ease

Dubai stand during the Arabian Travel Market held at Dubai World Trade Centre in Dubai on May 16,2021. Pawan Singh / The National. Story by Deena

International passenger volumes are projected to rebound to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 by 2024, according to the chief executive of Dubai Airports.

Once travel restrictions in its major long-haul markets ease, Dubai is ready to return capacity quickly and expects a "flood" of passenger traffic, Paul Griffiths said at a summit during the Arabian Travel Market on Wednesday.

The airport can reopen Terminal 1, which is now in "suspended animation," within seven days and its Airbus A380 terminal in three weeks, he said. It could "easily" mobilise its pre-pandemic capacity of 95 million to 100 million passengers within a month, he added.

"We're ready to go and all we need now is the major easing of restrictions in the main markets to come and once that starts to happen, it won't be a trickle, it will be a flood," he said referring to the UK, Indian subcontinent, US and Australasia, among others. "Most of the major long-haul markets that we serve are under either closed border or travel restrictions."

The airport, which is the home base of long-haul giant Emirates, handled 25.9m passengers in 2020, a 70 per cent drop on 2019, as the Covid-19 pandemic paralysed the global travel industry.

"The entire aviation industry here is like a coiled spring ready to respond to the slightest easing of restrictions, and mobilising the capacity of the airport and airlines is something we're braced to do," Mr Griffiths said. "The recovery will be very, very rapid indeed - the problem is we don't know when the tipping point will come."

Prior to the pandemic, Dubai International Airport won approval to expand its capacity to 120 million passengers annually, up from about 100 million currently, by 2030, the executive said. These plans will be reviewed in the light of the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, a Dubai Airports spokesman later clarified.

The airport cut its workforce by 34 per cent in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.

The global aviation industry is among the worst hit from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic that brought travel to a near-standstill as countries shut their borders. In a bid to conserve cash, airlines have laid off employees, deferred aircraft deliveries and sought government bailouts.