By ISABEL DEBRE – Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, reported Thursday that it handled more than 13.6 million passengers in the first three months of 2022 – more than double the number of last year, a clear sign that a long-anticipated travel revival has reached the global aviation hub.
This quarter’s passenger volume represents the busiest at the airport since the virus struck in 2020, compared to just 5.7 million passengers logged in during the same period last year.
As a sign that long-haul markets have not yet fully recovered from the pandemic, CEO Paul Griffiths said the airport did not expect transit traffic to return to pre-virus levels in the next two years. Still, air traffic has improved as countries around the world ease travel restrictions for COVID-19, such as testing and vaccination rules.
“It was extremely encouraging,” Griffiths told The Associated Press, praising the government’s efforts to keep Dubai’s border open, vaccinate aggressively and introduce policies that have attracted an international workforce. “We are now seeing a huge upswing. … An entirely new sector of the world’s population is beginning to see Dubai as a very credible and attractive place to live and work.”
The main east-west transit point, home to Emirates, long the jewel of Dubai’s state-owned businesses, is expected to handle 58.3 million passengers by 2022.
This year’s passenger traffic so far has been driven by the airport’s reliable destinations and the source markets with large expatriate populations in Dubai – India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.
More recently, after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine and the West piled up sanctions on the Kremlin, the airport has become one of the few remaining flight corridors from Russia.
Major US companies have transferred workers from Russia to the United Arab Emirates. The Arab Gulf Federation has avoided open criticism of Russia’s war against Ukraine and has failed to enforce sanctions imposed by the West. The UAE also offers a three-month multiple entry visa for Russians upon arrival. Emirates flights between Dubai and Russia have continued.
“Since tensions started in Ukraine and Russia, Dubai has been open to people coming from those areas,” Griffiths said. “Where others have closed the borders, we have remained open.”
Griffiths also said Al Maktoum International’s private jet terminal at Dubai World Central, the Gulf city’s second airport, has been “incredibly busy”, with a recent 400% increase in traffic. Satellite images show dozens of private jets parked at the terminal.
He declined to comment on whether the parked jets had any connections to Russia’s wealthy who were trying to leave the country with their belongings, saying only:
“We just let everyone have their way.”
Griffiths sounded optimistic when asked how Dubai airport was not only recovering from the devastating blow of the pandemic to aviation, but also to retail travel sales.
Dubai Airport’s towering terminals, with waterfalls and artificial palm trees, cavernous duty-free shops and luxury boutiques, depend on revenue from retail concessions. When international passenger traffic collapsed and Chinese tourists largely disappeared, much of that money dried up.
But Griffiths said the tourists that have trickled through the terminals in recent months are major backers. Demand for luxury goods has remained high in Dubai.
“Interestingly, although passenger volume has fallen in recent years, those who travel tend to spend more,” he said. “If we provide the experience that people expect, we hope that will be enough to get people through Dubai.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.