Dubai Airshow 2023: Expansion on the horizon for Dubai Airports

With air traffic booming to and from the UAE, Dubai Airports has eyes on expansion.

Image: DXB apron - courtesy Dubai Airports.

 “We had a brilliant first half of 2023 with traffic at DXB exceeding figures compared with the same period in 2019,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports. Speaking ahead of this year’s Dubai Airshow, Griffiths confirmed Dubai’s primary hub served 46.1 million passengers between January and July and currently serves 257 destinations across 104 countries with 91 airlines.

“Our current forecast for the end of the year is that we will serve around 87.3 million passengers, which is a little short of the 89 million passengers served in 2018 (the airport’s busiest-ever year), so the outlook is really positive.”

According to Griffiths, the primary driver of growth in traffic over the last couple of years is down to Dubai being quick to vaccinate 100 per cent of the population and reopen after the global pandemic. 

“It put Dubai on the map as a good, safe place to be. Subsequently, 55 per cent of our traffic is now visiting traffic, whereas before the pandemic it was only 40 per cent with the remaining 60 per cent comprised of transit passengers.” 

Describing Dubai as being in a “geocentric position”, Griffiths added that half of the world’s population is within four hours flying distance and the other half within eight hours. 

The increase in single-aisle aircraft flying longer distances has also seen a shift in the destinations being served from Dubai. 

“Air access to and from secondary cities across Europe and Asia is now within range of smaller aircraft, which has enabled us to operate with greater frequency to a wider network of destinations,” he said.

Although, he added, “the long-haul market continues to do extremely well, with Emirates the carrier of choice to many destinations.”

The accessibility of the wider Middle East region for tourism is also helping drive passenger demand. 

“The region has been underdeveloped in terms of its tourism potential, but is now starting to mature. The investments, particularly in countries such as Saudi Arabia, are of a scale and ambition that is fairly unprecedented,” said Griffiths. 

He added that the introduction of a unified Gulf tourist visa, as recently approved by interior ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, will increase the appeal of the region for visitors.

Without confirming numbers, Griffiths explained that to meet the anticipated growth in passenger traffic, Dubai Airports’ short-term goal is to invest “modest” amounts of money in expanding the operation at DXB to accommodate an additional 20 to 30 million passengers over the next 10 years. 

There are programmes in place to increase the number of aircraft stands, passenger processing services and quality of lounges as well as service delivery. “But in the longer term there will be a need to further expand both DXB and DWC and therein lies huge potential to be a pioneer and build a ground-breaking, multi-modal transport hub,” he said.

Developing local talent to support the airport’s growth is also fundamental to Griffiths’ vision. “We have consistently employed graduate trainees and our growing body of UAE national talent is something I’m immensely proud of,” he said. Adding that the skills these graduates bring to the business are invaluable, he noted, “their whole approach, thought process, views on sustainability and use of social media are radically different from the older generation and can’t be ignored.”

Similarly, he underlined that automation and AI is something that is to be embraced particularly when it comes to speeding up passenger and baggage processing. “If we can process passengers more efficiently through check-in and security and get them through to the retail areas using technology rather than doubling the size of the facility and the resources needed, everyone benefits,” he said. 

Embracing change is all part of the day job for Griffiths. “There’s never a dull moment. This is an exciting, dynamic environment and the pace of change is getting quicker all the time. But the future looks bright and as a business we’re determined to make aviation the biggest and best enterprise here in Dubai,” Griffiths concluded.