Passenger numbers at Dubai International Airport passed pre-Covid pandemic levels in the third quarter of 2022, its chief executive said, causing the airport to revise its annual forecast by another one million passengers.

Paul Griffiths, who oversees the world’s busiest airport, told the Associated Press the annual forecast for Dubai International, or DXB, is more than 64 million.

The airport saw 18.5 million passengers in the third quarter of this year, up from 17.8 million during the first quarter of 2020 – prior to and at the dawn of the pandemic.

Mr Griffiths said most of the growth came from the traditional markets of India, UK, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but added that the end of Covid-19 testing requirements and people’s eagerness to travel have also contributed to the increase.

Dubai Airport
Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, said ‘recovery is very much on the agenda’ (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

“Recovery is very much on the agenda and has been a phenomenon here ever since the end of the pandemic,” he said.

The figures are welcome news for the tourism-driven economy of Dubai, which accounts for about 12% of the tiny nation’s GDP. In the third quarter of 2021, 6.7 million passed through the airport.

Nevertheless, the figure is nowhere near the pre-pandemic milestone of 86.4 million in annual traffic logged by the airport in 2019.

The 46 million passengers who travelled through DXB in the first nine months of this year represent 72% of the airport’s pre-pandemic levels. Mr Griffiths said they expect to reach pre-pandemic levels annually by 2023.

The largest share of traffic to Dubai came from India, with 6.8 million travellers, followed by Saudi Arabia, with 3.4 million this year. A key growth market for travel to and from Dubai is Pakistan and the US.

The UAE is home to more than 100,000 British citizens. Dubai’s main airport logged 3.2 million passengers from the UK up to September this year, making it the third largest share of traffic numbers.

Around 60% of Dubai’s airport traveller figures this year represent arrivals, with the rest transiting through.

Mr Griffiths said the first World Cup in the Middle East, currently taking place in Qatar, is expected to add 494,000 passengers to Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) during the fourth quarter of the year. Currently, 120 daily flights are operational from DWC for Fifa fans to shuttle between matches in Doha and Dubai.

Qatar Airways has 60 daily flights to shuttle football fans to the tournament, while the other 60 are operated by low-cost carrier FlyDubai, he said.

Ambitious plans to turn the airfield in Dubai’s southern desert into a mega-aviation hub, first unveiled by Dubai before the 2008 global financial crisis, have faltered in recent years. Long-haul carrier Emirates, based in Dubai, parked many of its double-decker Airbus A380s there during the pandemic as commercial flights halted.

Now, Mr Griffiths said, the air travel market continues to rebound around the world, with more people traveling as mobility returns to the world.

This year, 275,000 flights have gone through DXB, up 159% from 2021.

The widespread lifting of virus restrictions in Dubai triggered a rapid increase in air travel demand, filling Dubai’s hub. Mr Griffiths said that has also contributed positively to the city’s economy.