The success story of Dubai International Airport
Dubai - From its phenomenal rise as a pearl-diving trading post just half a century ago to one of the most dynamic economies in the world, Dubai is a true melting pot of culture and nationalities. Apart from its huge population of resident expats — the indigenous Emirati population makes up just 15% of the United Arab Emirates — the number of foreign tourists reflects Dubai’s status of a global destination and has elevated Dubai International Airport (DXB) to the busiest in the world.
DXB terminals welcomed more than 70 million passengers in 2014, knocking London’s Heathrow off its long-held perch as the world’s busiest air hub thanks to Dubai’s massive investment in airport infrastructure and expansion. Dubai has set itself a mandate of diversifying from an oil-based economy and tourism has become one of its new mainstays.
It is not as though Dubai was completely alien to air traffic in its formative years but, in 1960, the newly built international airport was little more than a runway strip on a wasteland. Over the years, as Dubai’s ambitious business plans came to fruition, the city’s founding fathers realised the most viable route to and from the city was by air.
Ten years after opening, the airport served nine airlines and 20 destinations and gradual changes soon shifted into rapid progress. By 1988, traveller throughput reached 4.3 million and ten years later it boasted 9.7 million passengers a year.
Dubai International Airport handles more than 8,000 weekly flights by 140 airlines to and from 170 destinations, a stunning set of statistics, backed up by a 2014 Oxford Economics study that concluded Dubai’s aviation sector supports more than 400,000 jobs and contributes nearly $27 billion to the city’s gross domestic product (GDP).
One of commercial aviation’s greatest success stories, the rise of the Emirates Airline fleet helped to make Dubai International Airport a passenger and cargo giant. In the last financial year, Emirates announced it had carried 44.5 million tourists and 2.25 million tonnes of freight.
Its future is even more impressive with orders for another 280 aircraft worth $138 billion. Not surprisingly, it was a desperately sad day in Dubai last week when Sir Maurice Flanagan, the founding chief executive officer of Emirates Airlines and one of the city’s favourite adopted sons died at age 86.
The city’s airport has had to reflect the airline’s stunning growth and DXB is heralded as one of the best in the industry, winning Airport of the Year for 2014 at the Aviation Business Awards and Airport Transit News Awards. The list of accolades goes on but it is the consumer-centric attitude that has drawn so much acclaim.
In keeping with Dubai’s reputation as one of the shopping capitals of the world, the airport has also been named as having the Most Supportive Approach to Travel-Retail by DFNI Global Awards for Travel Retail Excellence. From high-end boutiques to no-frills food courts, the airport functions as much more than a transit area.
The airport’s flagship shopping attraction is the Dubai Duty Free (DDF) facility, which has also been named a world leader in its field. Now in its 32nd year, DDF recorded sales of $2 billion for 2014 and, despite already covering a massive 26,000 square metres of retail space, the area will expand by an additional 7,000 square metres with the opening of Concourse D in 2015.
DDF employs more than 5,500 people and that number grows daily. Eventually it will have an even greater presence thanks to Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, which, although still under construction and with a capacity of a modest 5 million passengers a year, will be the world’s largest airport on completion.
Far from being competition to DXB, parent company Dubai Airports sees Al Maktoum as complementary, despite a further $32 billion being earmarked for investment, enabling it to ultimately handle more than 220 million passengers and 16 million tonnes of cargo each year.
Dubai International Airport has the distinct advantage of being at the heart of the city with its world-class infrastructure and the Dubai Airport Strategic Plan 2020 seems committed to its plans for the future successes of DXB; the construction of Concourse A, the doubling of capacity at Terminal 2, the ongoing construction of Concourse D and the subsequent upgrade of Concourse C will boost the airport’s capacity to 100 million passengers by the end of the decade.
Despite having the planet’s largest airport facilities on its doorstep, it seems DXB will continue to be the city’s preferred point