Transportation

Dubai airport is on its way to receiving its 1 billionth passenger

Key Points
  • Dubai International Airport is on track to receive its one billionth passenger before the end of the year, underscoring a critical infrastructure challenge at one of the world's busiest international airport.
  • Since it opened in 1960, passenger numbers through Dubai International have grown at an annual average growth rate of more than 13 percent — outpacing rival hubs such as London's Heathrow Airport.
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Dubai Airports chief imagines the airport of the future

Dubai International Airport is on track to receive its one billionth passenger before the end of the year, underscoring a critical infrastructure challenge at one of the world's busiest international airports.

"We are likely to get just over 90 million through DXB this year, that's a new record for us," Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths told CNBC's "Capital Connection."

He said the key factors driving that rapid growth in passenger numbers include Dubai's strategic location, its vast network of destinations and the expansion of key routes from Emirates airline and its sister company, flydubai. The airport served 88.2 million passengers last year.

Not only am I very confident about the present growth of Dubai as a hub and the contribution that we make to the GDP, but I'm even more optimistic that our position will continue to strengthen for the future.
Paul Griffiths
CEO, Dubai Airports

"With 280,000 passengers a day and up to 13,000 bags flown through the hub, the concentration of not only the passenger traffic through DXB, but also the major contribution that it makes to the GDP of Dubai, is obviously incredibly significant," he said.

Dubai Airports owns and manages the operation and development of both of airports in the emirate — Dubai International (DXB) and Dubai World Central (DWC).

But as Dubai International Airport continues to grow, it faces an increasing infrastructure challenge, leading to capacity constraints.

"We are in the midst of a new master plan at the moment for 2030, which will see us boost the capacity of this airport by a further 30 million to 120 million by 2022," Griffths said.

"The newer airport, Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International, already has the capacity for a further 26 million passengers. So across the two airports, 146 million total airport capacity is a pretty impressive number and it will still give us the headroom for significant further growth here in Dubai," the CEO said.

Dubai's aviation ambition

Taking into account projected growth in passenger numbers and existing plans to expand capacity — including the development of the new Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central terminal, Oxford Economics expects the aviation sector to account for 37.5 percent of Dubai's GDP in 2020 and as much as 44.7 percent by 2030.

"Not only am I very confident about the present growth of Dubai as a hub and the contribution that we make to the GDP, but I'm even more optimistic that our position will continue to strengthen for the future," added Griffiths, who believes that capacity constraints can be addressed by further expansion.

Since it opened in 1960, passenger numbers through Dubai International have grown at an annual average growth rate of more than 13 percent — outpacing rival hubs such as London's Heathrow Airport.

Trade war and long haul headwinds

Analysts at the International Air Transport Association warn that the China-US trade war is not good news for the air transport industry and has the potential to adversely impact both air freight and passenger demand.

But Griffiths says it hasn't been an issue so far.

"It's made its way into conversations, but fortunately we've not really seen that translate into passenger or cargo numbers. Growth remains positive," Griffiths said.

He's also confident that the renaissance of long haul flights among key global carriers won't dent Dubai's status as a global hub.

"The large mega hub will still provide the concentration of feeder traffic that is required to feed a long haul network. Let's not forget that Dubai actually is the world's largest concentration of these new generation mega aircraft that are capable of serving virtually every point in the globe," he said.