Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest hub by international traffic, expects growth to accelerate in 2019, propelled by a partnership between its home airlines Emirates and flydubai, after passenger growth slowed last year.
Closer cooperation between the two airlines will boost the airport’s business next year, although the rate of growth will remain just shy of double-digits because of capacity constraints at the hub, said Paul Griffiths, chief executive of the operator Dubai Airports. This year, it is on track to reach around 90 million passengers.
“Growth will be slightly more modest than it has been in the past but in 2019 we expect the traffic to pick up again,” Mr Griffiths said. “It will be very, very substantial growth, certainly ahead of the norm of airports our size.”
Traffic at the Emirates hub grew 5.5 per cent to 88.2 million in 2017, a slower pace than previous years, which underscored challenges facing the aviation industry in the region because of low oil prices. This year the airport projects growth of 90.3 million passengers. In March alone, it recorded a rise of 4.5 per cent year on year to 7.85 million passengers.
“What will drive it up next year is the rate of flight movements will increase and that will drive greater throughput,” Mr Griffiths said. “And of course one of the big changes is the cooperation between Emirates and flydubai, which is actually extending the network and reach and rationalising some of the capacity. So, although the growth is more modest, what we’re seeing is more profitable growth.”
Flydubai, which currently operates flights from Terminal 2 and some at Dubai’s second hub Al Maktoum Airport, will start routes from Emirates’ Terminal 3 in September, with an expanded schedule planned for late October, Mr Griffiths said.
“Priority will be given to those flights that have a high percentage of connecting passengers,” he said. “The timing, number and selection of flights is ultimately a commercial decision made by Emirates and flydubai.”
Emirates and flydubai forged a closer commercial relationship with a codeshare agreement that began with 29 flights starting October 2017 and has since expanded to more than 90 flights. More than 400,000 passengers used the codeshare agreement between the two airlines from November to March, Emirates said in a statement last month.
The airlines are considering more destinations in Europe, Africa and the Far East as they deepen ties and flydubai takes delivery of Boeing 737 Max 9 jets with longer flight range, Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive of Flydubai, said in April.
This year, the airport operator projects growth of “just under” 90 million passengers at Dubai International Airport and is “on track” to meet that forecast, Mr Griffiths said. The operator had projected 90.3 million in 2018, according to a press release in February announcing its annual passenger traffic for 2017.
"As our traffic crosses the 90 million-mark growth, when measured against this substantial existing traffic base, will still represent a huge number of incremental customers, even though the actual percentage may be lower," he said.
“As is the case with all hubs nearing their capacity limits, growth rates tend to slow as slots are at a premium.”
Dubai is planning to expand its second hub at Al Maktoum Airport, or DWC as its known, nearly five-fold to an annual capacity of 26 million passengers this year.
“The facility is nearing completion. Next we will conduct the thorough process of testing and trialling every aspect of the facility and its associated equipment and systems before we declare the new terminal ready for our customers,” Mr Griffiths said.