Dubai Airport’s passenger numbers plunged 20% in the first quarter as coronavirus crushed travel

FAN Editor

People wait for their flights Dubai Airport’s Terminal 3. Undated.

Andrey Danilovich

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Passenger travel through Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s largest travel hubs, dropped by a fifth in the first quarter of the year as lockdowns and border closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic dealt a hammer blow to international travel. 

“Dubai Airports today confirmed that Dubai International (DXB) recorded a total of 17.8 million customers during the first quarter of 2020, a year-on-year contraction of 19.8%, a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic which dampened demand and reduced flight numbers,” a statement from Dubai Airports, which owns and manages Dubai International (DXB) and Dubai World Central Airports, revealed Thursday. DXB in 2019 was ranked the world’s largest hub in terms of passenger traffic.

Aircraft movements dropped 18.7% year-on-year — from 95,857 to 77,920 — due to flight suspensions from select coronavirus hotspots beginning in February, followed by the complete halting of passenger flights by the UAE government from March 24, with the exception of emergency repatriation flights. Those exceptional flights, arranged through UAE authorities and foreign embassies, allowed more than 50,000 people to return to their home countries, Dubai Airports said.

The dive in traffic numbers is a particular hit for the emirate’s economy. The transport and storage sector, which includes land, air and water transport but is led by aviation, comprised 18.5% of Dubai’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, and was the “most active driver” of its economy in the first half of 2019, according to the Dubai Statistics Center.

Global air traffic down 90% in April

Country-wide, aviation and tourism account for 13% of the UAE’s GDP, according to International Air Transport Association figures from 2019. But the Gulf country is far from alone. The pain is being felt the world over, and is set to worsen in the second quarter. In April alone travel restrictions led to a 90% drop in global air traffic, PVM Oil Associates reported in a research note Wednesday.  

Cargo tonnage for Dubai Airports also fell 16.8% year-on-year to 533,291 tons from January through March, the company said, reflecting a reduction in hold capacity. But cargo operations, which are exempt from the ban, have actually surged at DXB since then as a dozen airlines including Emirates SkyCargo and flydubai “have been given permission to operate an average of 110 flights weekly in response to heightened demand for pharmaceuticals, food, and other essential goods,” the release said.  

Dubai International Airport, the largest airport in space in the world and busiest airport by international passenger traffic. It is also the 3rd busiest airport in

NurPhoto/Getty Images

For its continued operations, the airports are implementing broad social distancing and sanitization measures in its efforts toward passenger safety. All staff and passengers are required to wear personal protective equipment, maintain social distance, and passengers now receive thermal screening or antibody tests carried out by Dubai Health Authority’s Airport Medical Centre team, the statement said. Dubai Airports has also conducted a phased fumigation of its facilities and fitted screens over its check-in and immigration counters to protect staff. 

Dubai International Airport is home to flagship state carrier Emirates and its budget carrier flydubai. Emirates is the world’s largest A380 operator, and for the past several years has been among the world’s top-five largest airlines in terms of passenger and freight ton miles flown. 

Emirates released its 2019 full-year earnings on Sunday, which saw a 21% profit but revealed steep declines beginning in February and a loss of over 3.4 billion dirhams ($930 million) in revenues in March. The airline warned that the pandemic would have a major effect on its performance for the rest of the year and into 2021.

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