The rapid growth of Emirates Airline and flydubai helped to push Dubai International Airport's passenger traffic up to a record last year, with 47.2 million travellers passing through the hub.
The figure, a 15.3 per cent jump from 2009, also underscores the popularity of foreign airlines that serve the Dubai and Sharjah metropolitan area under the UAE's liberal open skies policy. Dubai Airports lists 133 airlines that fly into Dubai International, ranging from Aeroflot of Russia to Air Zimbabwe, contributing to the airport's status as the fifth-largest international air hub.
Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, said last year was notable for its milestones. "We surpassed our growth projections, ushered in Dubai's status as a twin-airport city with the opening of Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International in June and celebrated Dubai International's 50th anniversary," he said. "The growth story continues in 2011 with passenger numbers expected to surge another 11 per cent to 52.2 million."
As a result, Dubai Airports is planning to boost capacity through improvements in ground infrastructure and systems, as well as airspace management, to ensure it accommodates the next waves of growth.
Taken together with Abu Dhabi International Airport's passenger growth last year, a 12 per cent expansion to nearly 11 million passengers, the results suggest the UAE's aviation industry is benefiting from sustained momentum.
Emirates Airline, the world's largest international carrier, accounts for the majority of airport visitors. The carrier introduced five new destinations last year, while substantially increasing capacity with eight new Airbus A380 superjumbos, and three new ultra long-haul Boeing 777-300ERs.
Since launching in June 2009, flydubai continued its rapid expansion with 17 new destinations last year, equivalent to one new route every three weeks.
With Dubai's status as a trading hub, and one with a sizeable population of expatriate workers, the airport has flourished with airlines flying there from four continents.
Delta, United Airlines and United Parcel Service operate flights from the US while eight airlines from Iran fly into Dubai. From Africa, 15 operators serve Dubai airport, including Afriqiyah Airways of Libya and Kenya Airways.
Cargo volumes at the airport rose to 2.27 million tonnes, a 17.7 per cent rise over the 1.93 million tonnes recorded in 2009, said Dubai Airports. However, the results showed contrasting trends for the last three months of the year, with record passenger traffic but air cargo volumes flat or marginally up from the same period in 2009. Last month, the airport handled 188,103 tonnes of freight, compared with 182,874 tonnes in the same period in 2009, an increase of 2.9 per cent.
Passenger traffic, on the other hand, broke the four million mark in each of the last three months of last year.
Dubai's traffic growth, which nearly doubled from 2005 when the airport handled 24.7 million passengers, was a sign of the UAE's successful liberal air policies, said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the head of Dubai Airports, Emirates Airline and flydubai. "The key to our success has been our co-ordinated and supportive approach to aviation," he said. "It starts with an open skies policy, competitive rates and a tax-free environment."