Dubai International Airport is targeting 79 million passengers this year after toppling London Heathrow as the world’s busiest by international travellers.
Total passenger numbers grew 6.1 per cent to more than 70.47 million last year, despite the impact of runway repairs which put a dent in overall growth.
Dubai is using its strategic location to create a “connection hub” for flights between Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Emirates, its flag carrier, is driving that growth. The airline operates a large fleet of twin-aisle aircraft — including the world’s largest passenger plane — the A380. The emirate is also home to the budget carrier flydubai, which in more than five years has expanded its routes in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
“The shared goal is to make Dubai a global centre of aviation,” said Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, the chairman of Dubai Airports.
Current upgrades include the opening of Concourse D, which will boost Dubai International’s capacity to 90 million, allowing it to take on the even bigger international airport hubs of Europe, Asia and North America.
To accommodate the rapid growth, Dubai is building Al Maktoum airport as its new hub. Upon its completion it will have the capacity to accommodate 200 million passengers.
Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said that Dubai International has been experiencing growth of 10 to15 per cent every year for the past decade or more. “The growth highlights the importance of developing Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport even faster,” he said.
But despite the rise of international travellers in 2014, the airport could have reported higher numbers, if it wasn’t for an 80-day period of runway repairs last summer. During this period, the airport operated on just a single runway and Emirates had to temporarily ground part of its fleet.
“With over 70 million passengers going through the facility, Dubai International’s growth in 2014 has been nothing short of phenomenal,” said Mr Ahmad. “When you consider the massive impact of the 80-day runway upgrades, the reduction in flights and daily disruption for almost a quarter of the year.”
But in terms of total customers, Dubai International still lags behind Heathrow, where total traffic was at 73.4 million for 2014, including 5.3 million passengers who flew on domestic routes.
Eastern Europe was the highest market in terms of percentage growth at Dubai International, rising by 21 per cent last year.
It was followed by North America, which increased by 18.6 per cent, then Asia, which rose by 12.6 per cent, airport data showed.
But despite passenger growth last year, cargo volumes dropped on the back of Emirates moving its cargo operations from Dubai International to Dubai World Central last May.
Freight volumes at Dubai International were at 2.3 million tonnes in 2014, down 3.4 per cent from 2013, the airport said.
Meanwhile, Dubai World Central cargo soared in the third quarter of 2014 reaching 243,284 tonnes of freight, up 462.5 per cent on the same period of 2013.