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‘Tough year’ ahead for Dubai Airport as passenger numbers slump

written by Hannah Dowling | February 16, 2021

A file image of Emirates’ aircraft at Dubai Airport (Airlinerwatch)

The chief executive for Dubai International Airport, previously the world’s busiest airport, has warned that 2021 will be another tough year for the Middle Eastern hub, as travel demand remains subdued.

“We are planning for it to be a tough year. That’s undoubtedly the case … anyone that doesn’t think it’s going to be a tough year has clearly not been observing what’s been going on,” chief executive Paul Griffiths said in an interview with Reuters.

Like much of the industry, Griffiths is optimistic that the ongoing global rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine will see some improvement in the sector, and thus passenger thoroughfare, in 2021.

However, he stated that it would likely be a “long time” before the airport sees pre-pandemic passenger figures.

“Intercontinental travel will continue to be a challenge,” Griffiths added.

It comes as the UAE-based airport reported a 70 per cent drop in passenger thoroughfare in 2020, with 25.9 million passengers passing through, down from 86.4 million in 2019.

The airport said a majority of this figure was achieved in the first quarter of the year, before the COVID-19 pandemic decimated demand for international air travel.


Meanwhile, the number of flights Dubai handled in 2020 fell by 51.4 per cent to 183,993, down from 373,261 the year prior.

Cargo efforts saw a slightly less harsh year-on-year drop of 23.2 per cent, dropping down to 1.9 million tonnes in 2020.

In 2019, Dubai International ranked as one of the top five busiest airports in the world for the sixth year in a row.

The airport rang in at number four on the list in 2019, and number three for the preceding four years.

However, its 2020 passenger figure of 25.9 million would not have seen the airport reach the top 20 on that list in any normal year.

However, Dubai was not alone in its dramatic passenger figures.

London’s Heathrow Airport saw 22.1 million passengers in 2020, down from 80.9 million in 2019, while Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris handled 22.3 million passengers in 2020, down from 76.2 million the year prior.

Meanwhile, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which has been ranked the number one busiest airport in the world by passenger numbers every year since 1998, handled 42.9 million passengers in 2020, compared with 110.5 million in 2019.


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