Dubai airport chief says passengers have highest pre-pandemic level

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Dubai International Airport’s passenger numbers in the third quarter of 2022 surpassed pre-COVID-19 levels, the airport’s chief executive said, pushing the airport ahead of its annual forecast by another 1 million passengers had to be revised.

Paul Griffiths, who oversees the world’s busiest airport, told The Associated Press that the annual forecast at Dubai International, or DXB, is more than 64 million. The airport received 18.5 million passengers in the third quarter of this year, up from 17.8 million in the first quarter of 2020 — before and at the start of the pandemic.

Most of the growth, Griffith said, will come from the traditional markets of India, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. He added that the end of COVID-19 testing requirements and people’s eagerness to travel contributed to the increase.

“Recovery is high on the agenda and has been a phenomenon here since the end of the pandemic,” said Griffiths.

The new figures are welcome news for Dubai’s tourism-driven economy, which accounts for about 12% of the small country’s GDP. A year ago in the third quarter, 6.7 million came through the airport.

Still, the figure is nowhere near the pre-pandemic milestone of 86.4 million in annual traffic recorded by the airport in 2019.

The 46 million passengers who traveled through DXB in the first nine months of this year represent 72% of the airport’s pre-pandemic level. Griffiths says they expect to reach pre-pandemic levels annually by 2023.

Most of the traffic to Dubai came from India, with 6.8 million travelers, followed by Saudi Arabia, with 3.4 million travelers this year. An important growth market for travel to and from Dubai is Pakistan and the United States.

More than 100,000 British citizens live in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai’s main airport registered 3.2 million passengers from the UK until September this year, making it the third largest traffic share.

About 60% of the number of travelers at Dubai airport this year are arrivals, while the rest are in transit.

The first World Cup in the Middle East, currently taking place in Qatar, Griffiths says, is expected to add 494,000 passengers to Al Maktoum International Airport, or DWC, in the fourth quarter of the year. Currently, 120 daily flights are operational from DWC for FIFA fans to commute between matches in Doha and Dubai.

Qatar Airways has 60 daily flights to bring football fans to the tournament, while the other 60 are operated by low-cost airline FlyDubai, he said.

Ambitious plans to transform the airport in Dubai’s southern desert into a mega-aviation hub, first unveiled by Dubai before the global financial crisis of 2008, have failed in recent years. Dubai-based long-haul airline Emirates parked many of its double-decker Airbus A380s there during the pandemic when commercial flights ceased.

Now, says Griffiths, the air travel market continues to recover around the world, with more people traveling as mobility returns to the world.

This year, 275,000 flights went through DXB, an increase of 159% compared to 2021.

The widespread lifting of pandemic restrictions in Dubai caused a rapid increase in demand for air travel, filling Dubai’s hub. Griffiths says this has also contributed positively to the city’s economy.

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