The year 2012 was characterised by robust growth in virtually all markets served by Dubai Airports, avoiding the traffic fluctuations experienced by other airports due to flagging consumer confidence and economic uncertainty.

This was due to the growing attraction of the expanding network and enhanced connectivity offered by the hub, and in particular its two largest carriers Emirates airline and flydubai. The expansion of Emirates’ network in North and South America, as well as Australia, and flydubai in the Russia and CIS region supported the increase in passenger numbers in those markets.

Most Middle Eastern destinations, many of which dropped in 2011, bounced back sharply last year as the political instability related to the Arab Spring receded. Iran and Syria were the exceptions where ongoing geopolitical instability in the region and the current global tensions with Iran resulted in a decline in traffic numbers.


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Record Passenger Traffic

Dubai International ended 2012 on a high note, taking over as the world’s second ranked airport in terms of international passenger numbers, vaulting ahead of Hong Kong International and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle in the global rankings.

Dubai International welcomed a record 57,684,550 passengers during the year, up 13.2 per cent from 50,977,960 in 2011. The traffic also exceeded Dubai Airports’ forecast at the start of 2012 by more than one million.

Passenger traffic is forecast to reach 65.4 million in 2013 and more than 70 million in 2014, which could place Dubai International at the top of the list of the world’s busiest airports, ahead of London Heathrow, within two years.

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Top Spots

Regionally, South America was the fastest expanding market in terms of percentage growth in 2012 (+99.4 per cent) due to the introduction of Emirates flights to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. The Russia and CIS region followed in second place (+36.9 per cent), Australasia (+21.9 per cent) in third spot and the GCC in fourth (+19.4 per cent). New Emirates flights to Washington, Dallas Fort Worth and Seattle during the year saw North American passenger traffic grow 18.6 per cent, making it the fifth fastest growing region.

India remained Dubai International’s single biggest destination country in terms of passenger numbers. The passenger traffic between Dubai and India continued to show robust growth during the past year, with traffic rising 7.4 per cent year-on-year to 7.34 million in 2012. Traffic was bolstered by the introduction of Spicejet, which added flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and Ahmedabad to Dubai. Air India Express, Indigo and Emirates also added flights and destinations during the year.

Saudi Arabia also emerged as major growth market for Dubai International, with passenger numbers rising 35 per cent to 3,557,502 in 2012. This increase was driven by expanding air links between Dubai and Saudi Arabia, with Emirates, flydubai, Nasair and Saudi Arabian Airlines all adding flights in 2012.

During the year Emirates added flights to Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh, while flydubai expanded its network to include Jeddah, Dammam, Riyadh, Taif, Yanbu and Tabuk. Saudi Arabian Airlines, meanwhile, added flights from Medina and Riyadh to Dubai and low-cost airline Nasair introduced links between Riyadh and Dubai.

Saudi Arabia is now Dubai International’s third-biggest country-specific market behind the UK.

Doha remained the top city destination, recording an 18 per cent growth to 2,225,648 passengers. London followed it with 2,009,660 passengers in 2012, up two per cent.  

Overall Dubai International grew its network in 2012 with more than 140 airlines serving more than 260 destinations.


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Dubai World Central

Some 40 kilometres away from Dubai International, Dubai World Central (DWC) – the emirate’s second airport and the global hub of the future – continues to grow and expand its cargo business rapidly.

Cargo has been the mainstay for DWC since its opening in 2010. In the past three years the airport has experienced a steady growth in cargo volumes, and 2012 was no exception. Sea to air freight traffic growth was particularly robust as airlines took advantage of the DWC’s bonded link to the Jebel Ali port. Additionally, the road feeder service operating between Dubai International and DWC facilitated the smooth flow of transit air freight.

During 2012, DWC handled 219,092 tonnes of air freight, with average monthly air cargo volumes totalling 18,257 tonnes, compared to 7,477 tonnes per month in 2011. Cargo transit traffic comprised 44,052 tonnes, or 20.1 per cent of volume.

Aircraft movements for the year came in at 16,317, with more than 30 airlines operated from DWC, predominantly as cargo charter operations.

A key milestone for the airport in 2012 was the opening of the new Al Majlis facility for general and business aviation.

The facility offers a viable alternative to business travellers by providing greater flexibility in terms of general aviation departures and arrival slots. Its proximity to the fast-growing business area of “new” Dubai is an added attraction. The new Al Majlis has six lounges capable of accommodating 80,000 VIP passengers a year.

Once complete, DWC will become the world’s largest airport with an ultimate capacity of 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo per annum. The airport forms the heart of a greater project also called Dubai World Central.

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Facility Expansion Plans

In order to accommodate the anticipated growth over the next decade, Dubai Airports in 2011 launched its Strategic Plan 2020, a 10-year master-plan that outlines an aggressive expansion programme for airspace, airfield, stands and terminal areas at Dubai International. Endorsed by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in July 2011, the $7.8 billion plan envisages increasing the total capacity of the airport from the current 60 million passengers per year to 90 million by 2018.

SP2020 takes into account the need to minimise constraints on growth by delivering timely capacity, while improving service levels and generating strong cash flow to maximise capital investment. Further, it effectively balances the need for facility development, process improvement and demand management to ensure optimal utilisation of facilities and maximum return on investment. SP2020 is also designed to reinforce Dubai’s hub status and ensure a smooth transition to DWC in the long term.

The plan involves a 60 per cent increase in the number of aircraft stands at Dubai International. Dubai Airports will commission the construction of additional terminal space and concourse areas, comprising an extra 675,000sqm of floor space.

During 2012 several milestones towards achieving the goals outlined in SP2020 were achieved.


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Concourse A

The highlight of the year was the completion of construction and operational readiness testing of Concourse A – the world’s first purpose-built A380 facility. Following an extensive testing and trial period, the facility was opened on January 2, 2013, with Emirates’ EK003 to London Heathrow being the first flight to use the new building.

The facility features 20 A380 capable gates, 13 remote stands, 29,000sqm of lounge space, 11,000sqm of retail space and 4,800sqm of F&B, all of which will serve to boost service and increase non-aeronautical revenue in 2013 and beyond.

The new concourse has been well received by the flying public and provides a timely boost to Dubai Airports’ passenger capacity, rising from 60 million to 75 million.


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New SP2020 projects under development

Elsewhere on the airport property several other key elements of SP2020 also began to take shape. Early enabling works in preparation for the construction of Concourse D, which will become the new home of the more than 100 international airlines that currently operate from Dubai’s Concourse C, were completed. Construction is expected to begin in earnest in 2013 with completion expected in 2015.

Phase 1 of Terminal 2’s expansion – which includes the doubling of the footprint of the terminal building and providing new check-in and retail areas – also progressed significantly during the year and is on track for opening in the middle of 2013. Once the first phase is complete, Phase 2 – which includes refurbishment of the existing building – will get under way.

The airport’s cargo facilities are also undergoing an expansion and modernisation programme and construction is set to begin on a 30,000sqm addition to Dubai International’s 1.2 million tonne Cargo Mega Terminal (CMT), increasing capacity by 25 per cent to 1.5 million tonnes a year. Dubai International’s original cargo facilities, Hall A and Freight Gate 1, located adjacent to the CMT, are also undergoing a complete refurbishment. Together these facilities will be dedicated for the sole use of Emirates airline.

Work on a new cargo centre, which will facilitate the transport of freight between Dubai International and DWC, got under way on the former site of the Airport Expo building, which was partially demolished earlier in the year to make way for the new facility. The new cargo centre is expected to be completed by April 2014 when the corresponding facilities at DWC are complete.


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Air Navigation Services

Recognising that capacity constraints in the air can limit growth, Dubai Airports is committed to working with its industry partners to manage growth and provide air traffic capacity wherever and whenever it is needed, through infrastructure expansion, the application of technology and process optimisation. Accordingly a number of initiatives are in progress to tackle the issue at multiple levels.

During 2012 Dubai Airports brought to fruition several of these initiatives to address the airspace constraints. Key among them was the redesign of all standard arrival and departure routes in Dubai airspace to accommodate the increased volumes of aircraft flying to and from Dubai International. The new designs increase the airspace capacity and in-flight efficiency, enhance safety, save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions. Following a rigorous validation process and a thorough air traffic controller training programme, the new procedures were implemented in August 2012.

Part of this expansion included Dubai Air Navigations Service’s (DANS) decision in April to move ATC staff controlling flights in Dubai airspace (departing from and arriving to both Dubai airports) to the spacious ATC radar facility at DWC.

The move to DWC took place as part of the phased conversion to a more advanced ATC system (Raytheon AT3) which, when fully installed, will become the backbone of ATC operations in Dubai. To ensure a smooth transition, and following a thorough planning process based on international best-practice, DANS installed, tested and commenced radar control operations at DWC using equipment identical to that which controllers were using in Dubai International prior to the move.

The move is paying dividends with staff located there handling some 1,200 flights per day. ATC staff in Dubai International’s tower continues to control all aircraft on the surface and in the close vicinity of the airport.

The second and final phase saw the installation of the new air traffic control system (AT3). In the final months of 2012 the system underwent the last stages of system configuration and fine-tuning, with the system becoming operational in February 2013. The new system has improved safety nets and is better able to cope with the significant increase in traffic volumes expected at both of Dubai’s airports in the years ahead.

Another key milestone was the adoption of a new Electronic Flight Progress Strip (EFPS) system, which replaced traditional paper flight strips and enabled the provision of a dynamic flow of information between stakeholders.

There are several further phases of airspace development planned over the coming years. These will focus not only on process change but also on capitalising on emerging technologies such as performance-based navigation. At a broader level, Dubai Airports is also actively participating in several national and regional forums to optimise the region’s airspace structure and support the growth of aviation, and as a result, the on-going prosperity of Dubai.