During 2020, we experienced challenges never before seen in the travel industry… Despite these challenges, we emerged at the end of 2020 with 25.9 million passengers passing through our airports,” said Paul Griffith on Monday.
“We remain optimistic that, in future, we will recover to former levels of traffic we enjoyed in 2019. Through these challenging times, one of the most important qualities is strength and resilience. And we have seen that not just from our staff, but our partners, stakeholders, airline customers and concessionaires, everyone involved in making Dubai Airports the success it has been to date,” he said in a video message.
India, UK, Pakistan top markets
Dubai Airports reported passenger numbers were down by 70 per cent from 2019, when it received 86.4 million visitors. Dubai was the world’s fourth-busiest airport in 2019, according to industry group Airports Council International.
India remained the top destination country with 4.3 million passengers, followed by the United Kingdom at 1.89 million, Pakistan at 1.86 million, and Saudi Arabia at 1.45 million. Meanwhile, the top three cities were London at 1.15 million, Mumbai at 772,000 and New Delhi at 722,000.
“One of our first challenges was to reduce the scale of our infrastructure to match the greatly reduced level of demand. This was essential to preserve our liquidity and involved us hibernating Terminal 1, Concourse D and Concourse A,” said Griffith.
“What we also had to do was to reassure our travellers that we were making every effort to make DXB and DWC a safe, secure and hygienic place for them to continue their journey in complete confidence. As soon as the demand for air travel starts to bounce back, we can quickly bring those facilities back into operation to mirror the demands from our airline customers.”
He said recovering the confidence of the travelling public is a major initiative that Dubai Airports must ceaselessly pursue.
“It is incredibly important to regain the confidence of every individual traveller so they see the combination of the airlines that we serve and the airports that we operate as safe places for people to travel through towards their destinations,” he said.
Dubai International handled 183,993 flights in 2020, down 51.4 per cent, while the average number of passengers per flights fell 20.3 per cent to 188. The airport handled 1.9 million tonnes of cargo, down 23.2 per cent year on year.
2021, a challenging year
Saj Ahmad, an analyst at London’s StrategicAero Research, said the slow piecemeal ramp up of flights, courtesy of flydubai and Emirates over the last few months, has no doubt aided passenger confidence to resume flying, despite the need for negative PCR tests.
But demand is going to take years to recover, he added. “For now, Dubai International — like many other gateways — has little option but to ride out this storm the best it can. Until the entire planet is vaccinated, pre-2020 levels of passenger flows are going to take years to come back — but they will return. And so, we can expect 2021 to be another challenging year. If Dubai International can cater to 30-40 million passengers this year, which I expect that they will, then the airport will have done well,” he said.
Paul Griffith noted 2021 is going to be a difficult year and there are many challenges ahead. “However, I am confident that there is room for optimism, thanks largely to the skills, dedication and commitment of the entire Dubai Airports team,” he said.
“Looking forward, we are confident of a steady, but optimistic outlook. We are constantly monitoring future schedules and bookings, working with airlines on their plans to return to DXB and new routes to be introduced. This will allow us to ensure we have sufficient capacity and operational capability available to support as the recovery gains pace,” he added.