Dubai's state airport operator is hoping for a "flood" of travellers as the COVID-19 pandemic eases, targeting passenger traffic through Dubai International Airport to grow 8% to 28 million this year as demand rebuilds.
Terminal 1 is reopening today (Thursday June 24) after a 15-month closure. Operations were consolidated through Terminals 2 and 3 last year as the pandemic took hold.
"People think it will trickle back. I don't believe that. I believe it will be an absolute flood of demand when people get the confidence to travel again," Dubai Airport chief executive Paul Griffiths told Reuters.
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The airport, which is one of the world's busiest, could see over 40 million passengers this year if it is "really, really lucky," Griffiths said, though it is likely to be somewhere between 24.7 million and 34.3 million. "We're comfortable with that mid-range of about 28 [million]."
Terminal 1 has an annual passenger capacity of 18 million, while the entire airport can handle up to 100 million.
Griffiths estimated that the terminal's reopening will result in 3,500 additional jobs at the airport, including those working in retail, hospitality, security and immigration.
By the autumn, 90% of the 260 destinations served from Dubai airport prior to the pandemic could be restored, Griffiths said, up from 63% today.
Last weekend, Dubai announced that some restrictions on passengers flying from India, South Africa and Nigeria would ease from Wednesday June 23.
The airport handled 5.75 million passengers in the first quarter, a 67.8% fall compared to the same quarter in 2020 before the pandemic halted traffic.
In 2020, passenger traffic plummeted 70% to 25.9 million from 86.4 million in 2019. The airport is the base of state carriers Emirates and flydubai whose entire operations are international flights.
Over a two-week period starting on Thursday June 24, 66 foreign airlines will move from Terminal 2 and 3 to Terminal 1.
Terminal 3, where Emirates operates from, will continue to operate with two of its three concourses for the time being.
Dubai's second airport, Al Maktoum International, will also remain closed to commercial passenger flights.
In other Dubai aviation news, the Dubai Airshow, this year's biggest aerospace trade show and a spectacle for business deals worth billions of dollars, will take place with capacity restrictions in November due to the pandemic, its organiser has said.
Even though few deals are expected as the industry seeks to preserve cash, the show is seen as a psychological boost for airlines and planemakers to reset an industry battered by the health crisis.
It will also take the temperature of regional conflicts and tensions between the US and Iran.
The Dubai Airshow, which is scheduled for November 14-18, will be the largest aerospace trade event to be held since the pandemic forced the cancellation of European shows Farnborough and Le Bourget in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
It is a magnet for tens of thousands of visitors including planemakers, their suppliers, airlines, arms firms and military officials from around the world. Over the years, it became a key industry summit as state carriers like host Emirates reshaped international travel through their Gulf hubs.
Timothy Hawes, managing director of organiser Tarsus F&E, said that the number of exhibitors who have signed up for this year's show is so far the same as when it was last held in 2019.
"We are confident as we stand at the moment that the interest is there," Hawes told Reuters in an online interview.
The five-day show in 2019 welcomed over 84,000 visitors and 1,200 exhibitors, according to the organiser.
Exhibition stands are to be spread further apart from each other this year than in previous shows to maintain distancing between attendees, Hawes said.
Stands and the show as a whole will also have limits on how many visitors can be in attendance at any single moment, he said. However, those limits fall within previous attendance levels.
Wearing of masks is expected to be compulsory.
"We are very much ready to showcase and bring people together again. It's been a long time of people [not] meeting face-to-face," Hawes said.
A decision has yet to be made on whether attendance will be limited to those vaccinated against the novel coronavirus or those who had recently tested negative for CVOID-19, he said.
"We expect that as it stands there is an opportunity to run a show without it looking too different to previous years," he said.
The show will also feature Israeli companies after the UAE and Israel established ties last year, which has since led to a number of business deals including in the aerospace sector.
The UAE, with a population of approximately nine million people, has one of the world's highest rates of COVID-19 vaccinations. It is currently reporting approximately 2,000 new infections each day, down from a peak of almost 4,000 in February.
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