Dubai flights: Traffic ahead of pre-Covid levels, says top official

Transfer markets slow as China, Far East, Australia and some other markets are taking time to recover



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Nandini Sircar

Published: Wed 27 Apr 2022, 1:13 PM

Last updated: Wed 27 Apr 2022, 8:27 PM

The numbers have spoken: Dubai’s travel and aviation sector is ready to leave the pandemic situation behind, with direct air traffic between the Emirate and the rest of the world now ahead of pre-Covid numbers, the chief of the city’s airports told Khaleej Times.

Current figures for point-to-point traffic between Dubaiand other countries are at 101 per cent of the pre-Covid level, according to Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

“It’s the transfer markets that we are waiting to openfully. Clearly, China, the Far East, Australia and some of those markets are taking their time to recover and that’s what is driving the slight lag in the transfer markets, which is something like 52 per cent back to where they were before,” he said.

Overall, the emirate’s aviation demand is back to 66 per cent of where it was in 2019, Griffiths said.

Considering Dubai’s enhanced reputation as a destination, the airports’ chief expects the emirate to fully recover by 2023.

“Once the transfer markets recover fully, we will be back to exceed our pre-Covid numbers quickly. We think that by 2023, we will see close to a full recovery…We’re anticipating 57 million this year in our initial forecast. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that forecast is greatly exceeded considering the growth numbers that we’re seeing so far.”

The rosy outlook for the sector primarily stems from the Emirate’s success in handling the Covid-19 situation, the official pointed out. This has reassured the world that the UAE is one of the safest, most attractive destinations amid the pandemic.

“The health programme, the vaccination programme, and the way that the government foresaw the challenges and had been very proactive in its decision-making have paid huge dividends. Our international reputation as a destination has been greatly enhanced,” Griffiths said.

People are interested in flying in to either live and work in Dubai or visit the city, “and that has greatly increased over the last two years”, he added.

“(That’s why) I’m confident that the growth that we’re seeing now will be sustainable.”

Over 5m PCR tests done at Dubai Airports

Besides the proactive approach, a key part of the UAE’s successful Covid response is the government’s consistency in implementing precautionary measures and travel regulations.

“Some countries were differentiating between which visitors they would accept and not, and it wasn’t on health grounds in a lot of occasions...That greatly dented the confidence in travel. The UAE Government has never done that. What they did is that they took sensible measures, announced those measures, applied them strictly and then stuck to them,” Griffiths said. “You always knew that if you left Dubai, you could get back in.” Dubai also built the world’s largest on-site Covid testing facility at an airport.

“I think we’ve done more than five million PCR tests here at the airport. This was a unique service that we were able to provide, whereas airports in other countries were just not able to match this,” the official said.

Rising demand

With travel bouncing back, keeping up with the fastgrowing demand now becomes a priority.

“Can the airlines and hotels keep pace with the demand at the moment? More than half the world’s population experienced lockdown at some stage. People couldn’t travel for two three years...People are now saying they want to put Covid behind them and travel. That’s why I think we’re seeing such a massive surge in bookings over the last few months,” Griffiths said.

“We took travel for granted. (The pandemic has clearly changed) the fact that we could jump on to a plane, and travel to anywhere we wanted to...People no longer have the same ‘taken for granted’ attitude they had before. We’ve been through some hard times, but the government here has been incredibly supportive.”

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As the 45-day closure of Dubai Internatioal Airport’s (DXB) northern runway begins on May 9, travellers are reminded to take note of flight diversions.

“During this period, 1,000 flights a week will be relocated to DWC (Dubai World Central) to enable the runway closure to take place and for the passenger services to be relatively unaffected,” explained Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

The temporary closure has been timed after the Eid travel rush and before the busy summer period. “We chose the timing carefully (and scheduled it) during a period where the traffic numbers are slightly lower than other times of the year,” the official said.

A ‘very intensive programme’ has been planned for the runway’s maintenance, with a focus on safety more than increasing passenger capacity.

“It’s more about the actual physical state of the runway. In aviation, safety is our primary objective. We have to make sure that every part of our entire supply chain of assets is in proper and peak safe condition..”

This will be the third refurbishment that the Dubai Airports is doing, according to Griffiths.

“We’re taking the opportunity to replace the instrument landing system. It consists of three-degree glide slope mechanism that appears in the cockpit of an approaching aircraft, so that everyone knows that the aircraft has the right landing approach, to be able to land safely on the runway. It’s an essential piece of equipment and requires precise installation and calibration. This will be done during the period between the May 9 and June 22.”

The refurbishment will give the runway a lifespan of about 10 years, before the process has to be done again, the official explained. Dubai Airports is making sure that the upgrade will be done within the shortest time possible, with intelligent safety control measures set to be deployed.


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