Dubai International retains top spot

DXB remains world's number one airport for international passengers for the fourth consecutive year with annual traffic reaching 88.2 million passengers in 2017

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 6, 2018

Dubai International (DXB) retained its position as the world's number one airport for international passengers for the fourth consecutive year with annual traffic reaching 88.2 million passengers in 2017, operator Dubai Airports said on Monday.

In 2017, even as passenger traffic grew at its slowest pace of 5.5 per cent in nine years, most traffic performance metrics underpinned Dubai's positioning as a preferred global aviation and transport hub.

Performance metrics include excellent infrastructure, better airline connectivity, easy-to-approach destinations in East and West, flow of international and regional tourists, and visa-on-arrival access to Chinese and Russian tourists.

A major transit hub situated on transcontinental air routes, DXB, which overtook London Heathrow as the busiest for international travellers in 2014, made passenger journeys through the facility smoother by reducing waiting times - by deploying cutting edge technology to track and manage queues in real time, as well as by enabling the use of Emirates ID at smart gates for UAE residents, said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

He said the airport expects double-digit passenger growth to resume as early as 2019, helped by an alliance between Dubai's two airlines - Emirates and flydubai. In 2018, growth will slow to around 2.4 per cent with the airport forecasting it would handle 90.3 million passengers, Griffiths said.

The airport need to handle about 99 million passengers in 2019 to reach double-digit growth. That would be its largest annual passenger increase since 2013.

Emirates currently accounts for 51 per cent of the airport's passenger traffic and flydubai has 13.2 per cent. Flydubai could now operate some flights from Emirates' Terminal 3, but most of its flights will stay at Terminal 2 after a study found it was not feasible to collocate the two airlines, Griffiths said.

In the long term there is unlikely to be continuous double-digit growth because of capacity constraints, with the airport expected to reach a limit of 118 million passengers a year by 2023, he said.

DXB seeks to overtake Beijing and Atlanta to become the world's busiest overall in the next two to three years. Beijing Capital International handled 95.8 million passengers in 2017, while Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International handled 103.9 million.

Dubai is also developing a second airport about 60km to the south. That airport, Al Maktoum International, will see a roughly fivefold increase in annual capacity this year to 26 million passengers.

Griffiths said he expects a 'major push' from airlines, especially flydubai, to use the new airport from 2019. In the long run Al Maktoum is expected to replace Dubai International completely.

Richard Stolz, head of Corporate Development, grmc Advisory Services, said key events like Expo 2020 are likely to propel DXB's passenger numbers further ahead.

'Considering Dubai's second airport - DWC - reaching further expansion and completion in the years to come it will be interesting to see how future traffic and passenger numbers will be distributed among the two airports,' he said.

India continued to be the single largest source market country with 12.06 million passengers using the airport, up 5.4 per cent, and the UK claimed the second spot with 6.466 million passengers. London retained its position as the top destination city with 4.012 million passengers, followed by Mumbai with 2.48 million passengers and Jeddah with 2.11 million passengers.

In 2017, DXB not only achieved robust growth in traffic to solidify its position as the world's number one international airport but also delighted customers with a range of new and exciting services and innovative products, said Griffiths.

The year witnessed the launch of WOW-Fi, the world's fastest free airport Wi-Fi, followed by free streaming movies for passengers through partnership with ICFlix.

'With passenger traffic expected to reach 90.3 million in 2018, our focus in the new year will be on the DXB Plus programme which aims to expand the airport's annual capacity to 118 million passengers through process improvements and use of new technology,' Griffiths added.

'While DXB didn't break through the 90 million passenger mark, handling over 88.2 million travellers is no small feat, particularly as the airport caters for increased airplane movement as well as air space traffic navigating around the city and also to its sister airport at Dubai World Central,' said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, in London.

'Forecasts for 2018 are to grow modestly to just over 90 million, but based on historic trends, there's a very high chance that Dubai International will exceed this. The continued organic expansion of Emirates and flydubai has been key to growth and as the two airlines look to further deepened their relationship, there will be immense passenger transit benefits that will help swell numbers, particularly as the busy spring and summer season arrives,' said Ahmad.

DXB welcomed six new scheduled passenger airlines in 2017, including SalamAir, Badr Airlines, and Air Moldova, while home based carriers Emirates and flydubai added 3 and 10 new passenger destinations and increased frequency/capacity on 31 and 22 routes respectively.

Markets showing the most significant growth during the year included Russia with passenger numbers surging 28 per cent to 1,339,534 and China with 2,212,179 passengers, up 19.4 per cent over 2016. The surge follows the relaxation of visa regulations by the UAE to offer visa on arrival for both Russian and Chinese visitors.

Aviation analysts said the growth in traffic, despite a laptop ban temporarily imposed on its long-haul flights to the United States in 2017, was propelled by high traffic volumes averaging 7.35 million passengers per month throughout the year, including the record months of January, July and August when traffic breached the eight-million passenger mark.