|05 February, 2020

'Global market conditions,' runway closure take toll on Dubai airport traffic

Passenger numbers at busiest aviation hub drop by more than 2mln in 2019

Image of Dubai airport, used for illustrative purpose.

Image of Dubai airport, used for illustrative purpose.

Getty Images

A “series of challenges throughout the year” has taken a toll on the air travel industry, with the number of passengers passing through Dubai International dropping 3.1 percent to 86.4 million last year compared to 2018. 

The drop in the number of flyers was due to the 45-day closure of the airport’s southern runway, global market conditions and the worldwide grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, the Dubai Airports said in a statement on Wednesday.

Last year’s collapse of Indian private airline Jet Airways, which used to fly from Dubai, also contributed to the slowdown in airport traffic.

DXB shut down its southern runway from April 16 to May 30, 2019, to pave way for major maintenance works, which prompted airlines to redirect many of their flights to Dubai World Central (DWC) airport. The project also resulted in a 32 percent reduction in the number of available seats.

Besides the disruption in airport operations, there was also slower global economic activity, as well as geopolitical headwinds, which may have resulted in lower passenger traffic.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported in November that overall conditions surrounding air transport remained “generally soft” due to a “moderation in economic activity in several large economies, and a recent increase in protests and geopolitical tensions in several regions of the world.”

“A slowdown in global travel demand is indeed a factor, but there’s another important reason why this is happening. Some airlines or passengers, instead of flying out of DXB, have shifted to other airports in the region. These hubs are becoming more competitive, offering better connections and improved airport services,” a Dubai-based travel operator told Zawya.

Also contributing to reduced capacity, Dubai-based budget carrier flydubai grounded 13 of its Boeing 737 Max aircraft, following the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people on board in March 2019. It’s not clear yet when the aircraft will return to the sky, but the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority had earlier said that the groundings might last until this year.

Despite the fall in airport traffic, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths expressed satisfaction with last year’s performance.

“While customer numbers in 2019 were lower than the preceding year, the impact of the 45-day closure of the runway, the bankruptcy of Jet Airways, as well as the grounding of the Boeing’s 737 Max accounted for an estimated 3.2 million passengers over the course of the year, and indicate underlying growth at DXB,” said Griffiths.

Top source markets

In terms of the source of passenger traffic, India retained its position as the top destination country for DXB passenger numbers, with traffic for 2019 reaching 11.9 million, followed by Saudi Arabia with 6.3 million flyers and the UK landing third with 6.2 million travellers.

China emerged as the fourth-biggest source of passenger traffic, accounting for 3.6 million customers, while the United States took the fifth spot with 3.2 million flyers.

(Reporting by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)

Cleofe.Maceda@refinitiv.com

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© ZAWYA 2020

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