Dubai airport close to 100% capacity 20 months after Covid-19 pandemic

Transport hub a major employer and seen by many as a bellwether for posterity in the emirate

Dubai International Airport reopened its Concourse A at Terminal 3 on Wednesday, taking the airport close to 100 per cent of capacity after 20 months of reduced operations because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Flight EK659, which arrived from Maldives, was the first to land on Concourse A since the section was closed on March 25, 2020 as part of measures taken by the UAE authorities to control the spread of coronavirus.

The airport is something of a bellwether in the emirate, both as a major employer and the gateway for tourists coming into the country.

Concourse A was the world's first purpose-built A380 terminal and serves Emirates Airline, with an annual capacity of 19 million passengers.

The area will reopen in phases over the coming weeks, to enable the airport to maintain service levels while accommodating the rush of seasonal travellers in December.

After the peak of the pandemic, Emirates Airline has restored 90 per cent of its network and is on track to reach 70 per cent of its pre-Covid-19 capacity by the end of 2021.

In October, the airline announced plans to hire 6,000 workers in six months, as travel demand rebounds.

Airport staff rehired

This week Dubai Duty Free, which runs many of the shops at the airport, also announced it was rehiring nearly 1,400 workers who were laid off during the pandemic, in several tranches.

The company laid off 2,508 people in total during the coronavirus pandemic, and 800 people resigned.

Ramesh Cidambi, the chief operating officer of Dubai Duty Free described the first half of 2020 as "catastrophic" for the business.

"We were closed in April and May of last year so the sales was zero, and in June sales were about five per cent of what we would have normally done," Mr Cidambi told Dubai Eye radio station.

"Sales started to pick up gradually during the course of last year. We finished the year with just under $3 billion and sales normally would have done about $7.4bn.

"This year now we are on target to do about $3.5bn in sales in comparison to $7.4bn in 2019."

T1 Concourse D DXB. Photo: Dubai Airports

The reopening of concourse D at Dubai International Airport spurred the rehiring of 600 people in August, and then in October, another round of recruitment for 1,000 people was announced.

Out of the 2,508 people that were laid off about 1,600 in total have been requested to come back.

Mr Cidambi suggested travellers' spending habits have changed since the pandemic.

"People are spending $10 to $15 more per person, but more importantly, more of the passengers are spending money in shops, and that is a trend that we have seen consistently from June of last year.

"That's the reason that we are able to stay 10 to 15 percentage points higher than the passenger numbers."

Last week, Dubai's airport operator raised its forecast for annual passenger traffic this year by an additional two million.

"We're projecting 57 million for next year at the moment and 28.7 million for this year," Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, told The National.

However, pre-pandemic passenger numbers are not expected to return until 2024.

Dubai Duty Free rehires workers - in pictures

Updated: November 24th 2021, 3:31 PM