Dubai International Airport Had 86.9 Million Passengers Last Year In A Post-Pandemic Surge

Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai Airports, talks to the Associated Press in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. The number of passengers flying through Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, surged last year beyond its total for 2019 — just before the coronavirus pandemic grounded global aviation. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai Airports, talks to the Associated Press in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. The number of passengers flying through Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, surged last year beyond its total for 2019 — just before the coronavirus pandemic grounded global aviation. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The number of passengers flying through Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, surged last year beyond its total for 2019 — just before the coronavirus pandemic grounded global aviation.

While still shy of its all-time high in 2018, the figures for 2023 showed just how far the airport, known as DXB, has bounced back from the pandemic. The number of passengers passing through its cavernous, air-conditioned terminals that are home to the long-haul carrier Emirates in Dubai, has served as a barometer for the aviation industry worldwide and the wider economic health of this city-state.

Overall in 2023, the airport had 86.9 million passengers. Its 2019’s annual traffic was 86.3 million passengers. The airport had 89.1 million passengers in 2018 — its busiest-ever year before the pandemic, while 66 million passengers passed through in 2022.

“I think our performance post-pandemic has been quite exceptional and a tribute to the investment we’ve made in the technology to smooth things along and also, in our people who’ve performed absolutely magnificently," Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai Airports, told The Associated Press.

Passenger traffic largely has been driven by the airport’s standard travel destinations — India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Pakistan. Russia has also been a major market as Dubai remains one of the few places still open to Russians during Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

Dubai was among the first cities to reopen to tourists in the pandemic. That helped boost its tourism industry as attractions like the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and the sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab luxury hotel drew both visitors and transit passengers out of airport lounges.

Earlier in February, Dubai announced its best-ever tourism numbers, saying it hosted 17.15 million international overnight visitors in 2023. Average hotel occupancy stood around 77%. Its boom-and-bust real estate market remains on a hot streak, nearing all-time high valuations.

“The economic contribution to the city of having more and more visitors, it’s obvious for everyone to see," Griffiths said. "We can see it on the roads, we can see in hotel occupancy, and we see it in the general economy here.”

The airport has estimated it will serve 88.8 million passengers this year — nearing its all-time high. But that will put increasing pressure on the already-stretched airport, which had its highest-ever number of aircraft takeoffs and landings in a single year — 416,405.

Dubai has another airport, Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) away in its far southern reaches. While used by commercial airlines when Qatar hosted the 2022 FIFA World Cup, that airport, opened in 2010, largely sees cargo and private aircraft flights.

Plans to put Emirates and other major carriers there have been repeatedly pushed off. Griffiths said current efforts remained aimed at increasing plane stands at DXB and other remodeling at the airport. to allow for expected further growth in passenger numbers.

“Ultimately, there will come a time when a new airport will be required to continue to fund the expansion of the aviation sector," Griffiths said. "But plans for that are very much under discussion.”

Meanwhile, DXB plans to invest in new security scanners to allow laptops, liquids and other objects typically needed to be removed for screening to remain inside hand luggage. There's also work experimenting with cameras to allow for people to simply walk through an area and clear immigration without even stopping, Griffiths said.

“There are huge advances in technology which are going to make us what we’re calling a 'no red lights' airports,” he said.

Dubai International Airport connects to 262 destinations in 104 countries worldwide via just over 100 international carriers.