Dubai airport eclipses Paris, eyes Heathrow

LONDON — Dubai International airport attracted more passengers than Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt last year as Gulf carriers bleed long-haul transfer traffic away from Europe’s leading hubs.

The airport, home base of Emirates, the biggest airline by international traffic, lifted customer numbers to 66.4 million from 57.7 million a year earlier. The 15 percent gain took Dubai past European No. 2 Charles de Gaulle, which attracted 62 million passengers, and the No. 3 Frankfurt, with 58 million.

A similar growth rate at Dubai in 2014 would allow the hub to surpass London Heathrow, which while growing passenger numbers 3.4 percent to 72.3 million last year is already operating close to the limits of its two runways. The Gulf hub is being expanded to serve 90 million travelers annually, even as Dubai builds the new Al Maktoum base designed to handle 150 million people and with a potential capacity for 200 million.

“It was truly a historic year for Dubai’s aviation sector,” said Chief Executive Officer Paul Griffiths. “2014 is set to be another eventful year, one featuring continued traffic growth, network expansion and the ongoing enlargement and upgrade of our facilities and runways.”

In 2012, Dubai International attracted 4 million fewer passengers than Paris Charles de Gaulle and ranked neck and neck with Frankfurt, which handled 57.5 million that year.

Europe’s major airports are also under pressure from Istanbul Ataturk, where the passenger count surged 14 percent in 2014 to 51.3 million, taking it past Madrid and almost level with Amsterdam Schiphol, the continent’s fourth-busiest hub.

Like Emirates and Gulf rivals Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways PJSC of Abu Dhabi, Turk Hava Yollari, or Turkish Airlines, is exploiting the position of its home base at a crossroads for intercontinental air routes to grab an increasing share of a transfer market that’s long been central to the business models of West European airports. Ataturk’s owner is part-controlled by the parent of Charles de Gaulle, helping to hedge against the eastward shift in hub traffic.

Dubai also saw the average number of people per plane rise to 198, it said, swollen by its status as the biggest global base for Airbus Group NV’s A380 superjumbo, for which Emirates is far and away the No. 1 customer. That compares with a figure of 154.8 passengers at Heathrow, itself one of the biggest bases for the double-decker model.

Aircraft movements at Dubai gained 7.5 percent to 369,953, compared to 469,552 at Heathrow, while 28 destinations were added, bringing the total to 239, with India ranking as Dubai’s single-largest market. The Qatari capital Doha and London were the most popular destination cities.

Abu Dhabi International airport boosted passenger numbers 12 percent last year to 16.5 million, with 135,000 aircraft movements, it said.

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