Dubai Airports traffic may reach pre-Covid levels in early 2024: CEO

Air passenger traffic in Dubai may reach pre-pandemic levels in 2024, a year earlier than previously expected, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said.

Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images

Air passenger traffic in Dubai may reach pre-pandemic levels in 2024, a year earlier than previously expected, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said.

“We recorded 13.6 million passengers in that first quarter [at Dubai International Airport]. This is causing us to review our forecast for the year,” he told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Wednesday, calling it an “extremely encouraging” result.

“Originally, we thought 2025, but it’s quite likely we’re going to be back to pre-Covid levels — maybe as early as Q1 or Q2 of 2024,” he said.

The first quarter passenger numbers for 2022 are up nearly 140% from the same period in 2021, and represent a 15.7% increase from the last quarter of 2021, Dubai Airports said in a press release.

Air traffic plunged during the pandemic, but Dubai International Airport remained the busiest airport for international passengers in 2020 and 2021, according to the Airports Council International.

The airport served 29.1 million passengers in 2021 and 25.9 million in 2020. Griffiths said he expects traffic to hit 58.3 million passengers this year — still a far cry from numbers before the pandemic, when the airport saw 86.4 million customers come through in 2019.

Some of the visitors to Dubai are actually helping to boost our point-to-point traffic numbers to more than 100% of pre-Covid levels.

Paul Griffiths

CEO, Dubai Airports

Dubai Airports, which is owned by the city’s government, manages Dubai International and Dubai World Central Airports in the United Arab Emirates.

Travel between Dubai and the rest of the world, or point-to-point traffic, has rebounded “incredibly strongly,” Griffiths said.

“Some of the visitors to Dubai are actually helping to boost our point-to-point traffic numbers to more than 100% of pre-Covid levels,” he said.

The recovery in the transit market has been slower and stands at around 60% of 2019 levels, the press release said.

Some markets such as those in Southeast Asia and Australasia closed their borders for a period, but are starting to reopen now, he noted.

“So hopefully, during May, we will see rebounds in the Chinese travel market, further strengthening in Australasia and all the traditional markets that are very good for us for transfer traffic will be back to their former strength,” he said.

China is still holding on to its zero-Covid policy, and imposed strict restrictions to deal with outbreaks in Shanghai and Beijing in recent weeks.

Rules for travel

In terms of health and safety requirements for air travel, including testing and mask mandates on planes, Griffiths said they may soon ease further in Dubai.

“We’re not far away from total relaxation,” he said, noting that vaccinated travelers to Dubai don’t need to be tested on arrival.

“We’re very anxious, obviously, to relax restrictions, but not until it’s safe to do so,” he added.

Separately, the CEO said it’s up to the government whether Dubai Airports will be publicly listed in an initial public offering.

“The Dubai government, I’m sure, in fullness of time will make a decision. And we will obviously embrace whatever decision is with great enthusiasm,” he said.

Asked if the company is ready for an IPO, he said: “We are ready for anything.”

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