Heaviest rain in UAE 'most disruptive weather event' in 63-year history of Dubai airport

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths looks back on how response and recovery operations ran like clockwork to safely take stranded guests to their destinations


Sahim Salim

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Supplied photos
Supplied photos

Published: Thu 25 Apr 2024, 6:10 PM

Last updated: Fri 26 Apr 2024, 9:22 AM

Last week’s record-breaking rainstorm was by far the “most disruptive weather event” in the 63-year history of Dubai International (DXB) airport, a top official has said. About 2,155 flights were cancelled, making it the highest number of cancellations yet, Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, told Khaleej Times.

“We are the world’s busiest international airport that facilitates the journeys of an average of a quarter of a million guests travelling to 250 destinations around the world on more than 1,100 flights every day. While we have faced difficult weather conditions in the past, the scale of disruption this time was exceptional and required a comprehensive and coordinated response from every member of the airport community,” he said.

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Hundreds of flights were cancelled, delayed, and diverted at the airport as a year’s worth of rain fell in Dubai in the space of 24 hours on April 16. Normal operations were restored at DXB on Saturday, April 20.

It was the highest rainfall on record for the UAE, according to the Met office. “By the end of Tuesday, Dubai had received more than 142mm (5.59 inches) of rainfall over 24 hours where an average year sees 94.7mm (3.73 inches) of rain. It was exceptional,” Griffiths said.

Paul Griffiths
Paul Griffiths

Referring to the storm, the Dubai Airports CEO said they came to know about it “well in advance" and "emergency response protocols were accordingly activated with all necessary resources”.

The initial reaction was “one of concern for the safety of guests and employees”, he added. News agency AP had earlier quoted him as saying: “We were looking at the radar thinking, ‘Goodness, if this hits, then it’s going to be cataclysmic'. And indeed it was.”

Griffiths said the scale of the disruption could not be compared to the Covid-19 era, when borders were closed and flights grounded.

“What we had during the early part of the pandemic in 2020 was the temporary suspension of all scheduled passenger flights for a couple of months (from March 25 to June 22, 2020). By comparison, the airports were open during the week of the storm and operating throughout despite the extreme disruption.”


As the storm hit on Tuesday, operations were suspended for 25 minutes at DXB. The operator then temporarily diverted inbound flights before limiting them.

“We reworked flight schedules to get as many planes off the ground as safely possible under the circumstances and get stranded guests to their destination. We coordinated with our airline partners to reduce the number of transfer travellers passing through DXB so that we could speed up the departure of stranded guests while reducing congestion in the terminals,” said Griffiths.

Over 75,000 food packets were distributed among passengers at DXB and Dubai World Central — although there were “initial challenges in transporting supplies” due to the road closures around the airports.

Visa issues

Some residents and visitors who overstayed their visas as their exit flights were cancelled due to the rains earlier told Khaleej Times they were not fined. When asked about this, Griffiths said the airport operator has a “robust system” in place to deal with such eventualities. “We worked closely with the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs (GDRFA) to guide and support guests with visa issues during the week in question.”

DXB was ranked as the world's top airport for international passenger numbers for the 10th consecutive year in 2023. It surpassed the 2019 levels of traffic in 2023 by welcoming 87 million guests, with initial forecasts suggesting the hub's traffic will surpass 88.8 million guests in 2024.


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