Dubai Airport passenger growth proving a bane for London Heathrow

Dubai has overtaken Heathrow, which is seeking a third runway, in the last two months meaning the UK will soon no longer have the world’s No 1 airport for international passenger traffic.

An Emirates air stewardess pulls a luggage case as she walks across the tarmac near one of the airline's Airbus A380 aircraft at Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport in London. Paul Thomas / Bloomberg
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The rapid rise of passenger traffic through Dubai is becoming a campaign issue for London’s embattled Heathrow Airport as it seeks to build a third runway,

Heathrow Airport chiefs are hoping that the UK government will award it a third runway to give it a chance at regaining its top position after Dubai attracted more international traffic in the first two months of the year.

“Dubai’s announcement that it has overtaken Heathrow in the last two months shows that the UK will soon no longer have the world’s No 1 airport for international passenger traffic,” said Colin Matthews, Heathrow’s chief executive. “We want Britain to continue to compete globally against the best hub airports in the world, but without a third runway Heathrow’s comparative decline will make the whole of the UK less attractive to do business in.”

Eight million passengers passed through Heathrow in March, down 2.8 per cent from a year prior, the airport said. Passengers per aircraft decreased 3 per cent to 146.6, it said, though the reduction in traffic and load reflected the shift of Easter holidays back to April this year.

Rapidly expanding airport hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are grabbing market share from longer-established rivals in Europe as more long-haul air traffic is routed through the Arabian Gulf. Dubai International Airport recorded an 11.7 per cent jump in passenger traffic in February to more than 5.6 million. That represented the seventh consecutive month of double-digit growth.

Congested airspace in the Gulf, however, may give Heathrow some breathing space if it wins the right to build a third runway. The UAE's aviation chief warned last week that Dubai International Airport would need to find a way to use both of its runways simultaneously if it is to avoid exceeding its capacity as traffic grows rapidly over the next few years.

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