Dubai International Airport (DXB) more than doubled its annual passenger traffic last year, exceeding its own forecast and retaining the title of the world’s busiest international hub for the ninth consecutive year.
The airport handled 66.1 million passengers in 2022, growing 127 per cent annually and exceeding its forecast of 64.3 million, on the back of a strong fourth quarter, operator Dubai Airports said on Tuesday.
“This time, last year, the outlook was nowhere near as bright as it is now … It’s been a very reassuring set of numbers to record after what has been the darkest period in aviation history since 1903,” Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, told The National.
Passenger traffic in the last three months of 2022 jumped 67 per cent annually to 19.7 million, marking the airport’s busiest quarter since 2019, according to the state-owned operator.
December was the busiest month of the year with 7.1 million passengers, the first time since January 2020 that Dubai International Airport’s monthly traffic hit the 7 million mark.
While passenger volumes have surged and the airport has avoided the travel chaos that plagued global hubs in Europe and the US last summer, traffic remains below the 86.4 million passengers recorded in 2019.
Dubai Airports is projecting the number of passengers who will pass through the international hub by the end of this year to reach 78 million, as the UAE prepares to host major international events such as the Dubai Airshow and Cop28, Mr Griffiths said.
A full recovery to pre-pandemic levels on a monthly basis could come by the end of this year or the beginning of 2024, if the monthly passenger figures reach 7.5 million, Mr Griffiths said.
“The magic number to watch is the monthly passenger count, we were [at] over 7 million monthly passengers in December last year, and to reach the pre-pandemic highs we’ve experienced before, we would have to be up at 7.5 million passengers per month,” he said.
“The indications are we are likely to get to that figure during the course of 2023, which is a good indication that we’re well on the road to a strong recovery.
“So, I’m hoping that the 7.5 million will be a landmark that we will reach at some stage this year. It indicates on an annualised basis that we would be up at pre-pandemic levels and even greater beyond that.”
DXB is investing in technology and infrastructure to maintain its status as the top airport in terms of international passenger numbers and the quality of services, Mr Griffiths said.
“We’re in a very competitive industry now; there are other hubs in the Middle East that would love to steal the crown of Dubai [as world’s busiest airport] and we’ve seen the plans announced in Riyadh to build a huge new airport, so there’s no shortage of ambition in the region.
“This is something we need to remain very mindful of in order to make sure we keep our number one coveted status that we’ve had [over the years].”
Following the reopening of China’s travel markets as the country lifted its zero-Covid policy, the increased capacity serving Chinese cities will bring with it a “significant growth” in passenger numbers, he said.
“We’ve now got seven cities between DXB and China, with five airlines operating a total of 25 flights a week, so we believe that will give us a good indication … that the Chinese market is back and will grow to pre-pandemic levels fairly quickly,” he said.
The global aviation industry is enjoying a robust comeback since most countries lifted their Covid-19 restrictions and people resumed travel for business and leisure.
Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline, based at DXB, reported a record profit in the first half of its financial year.
The airline expects travel demand to remain strong in the second half of its fiscal year as it focuses on restoring operations to pre-pandemic levels and growing its workforce.
India retained its position as the top destination country for DXB last year by passenger volume, with 9.8 million passengers, followed by Saudi Arabia with 4.9 million and the UK with 4.6 million.
Destinations such as the US with three million passengers and Russia with 1.9 million exceeded the passenger volumes recorded in 2019, Dubai Airports said.
DXB’s top destination cities last year were London with three million passengers, Riyadh with two million and Mumbai with 1.9 million.
Air cargo volumes at DXB declined in 2022, in line with a cooling in the global freight market from the peaks recorded during the pandemic.
DXB handled 1.7 million tonnes of cargo last year, a drop of 25.5 per cent from 2021, due the major freight operators moving back to Dubai World Central (DWC) and reduced capacity, as planes that were converted to freighters during the pandemic return to passenger services.
Cargo volumes also contracted in the fourth quarter to 420,125 tonnes, down 31.7 per cent from the same period in 2021, Dubai Airports said.