Heathrow beat Dubai International to retain its position as the world’s biggest airport for international traffic in the first half of this year.
But Heathrow bested Dubai by fewer than 3,000 passengers per day – equivalent to just 12 flights – while the figures suggest that Dubai International is on track to become the world’s busiest international airport by early next year, if not sooner.
“It can be expected Dubai will power ahead, having earned the right to the title of world’s leading airport,” said Peter Morris, the chief economist at Ascend Flightglobal Consultancy, an aviation firm.
“Dubai has integrated a global travel and tourism product between airport and airlines, and created conditions for growth to benefit from the double-digit traffic opportunities from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.”
Dubai International has had 34.6 million passengers pass through its gates since January, while Heathrow had 35.1 million.
But 80 days of maintenance work on Dubai International’s runways reduced the airport’s traffic by 26 per cent over May and June. Carriers were diverted to Dubai World Central during this time. The runways reopened this past Monday.
This loss of traffic was partially offset by the move to bigger aircraft, as Emirates’ growing use of its A380s increased the airport’s number of passengers per aircraft.
Despite the closure, Dubai International experienced a growth rate of 6.2 per cent year-on-year, while Heathrow posted a much more meagre rate of 1.2 per cent.
Dubai International expects to have its busiest day on record between July 24 and July 27.
Last year, Dubai experienced growth of 15.3 per cent, according to Airports Council International.
Both airports are likely to host more than 70 million passengers this year.
Heathrow has been hit by capacity constraints as successive UK governments have failed to approve construction of a third runway at the airport. It operates at more than 98 per cent capacity and was described as “virtually full” in a report last year published by its owner.
“The difference between Heathrow and London, made starker by the fact that the population of the whole UAE is less than the London region, illustrates the benefit of long-term infrastructure planning, rather than a short-term reliance on private markets,” said Mr Morris.
Neither threatens to become the world’s biggest airport by total traffic, however. That title belongs to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which hosted 94 million passengers last year and is the hub airport for the US carrier Delta Air Lines.
Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, said in an interview with Associated Press that Dubai would likely overtake Atlanta before the end of the decade.
Saj Ahmad, an aviation analyst, said, “It is a given now that by the end of the first or second quarter of 2015, Dubai International will take the global top spot off London Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport – and stay there for years to come.”
“With that in mind, Dubai International looks set to end 2015 by smashing through that coveted 70 million passenger barrier with ease.”
A spokesman for Heathrow said, “Dubai overtaking Heathrow shows the UK will soon no longer have the world’s No 1 airport for passenger traffic.”
“By expanding our existing hub airport at Heathrow we can connect the whole of the UK to all of global growth and maintain our nation’s status as an economic superpower.”
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