x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Middle East visitors boost Heathrow airport passenger traffic

Passenger traffic at the world's busiest airport was up more than 2 per cent in the first six months, boosted by strong growth in Middle East travelers.

Heathrow wants to build a third runway which would increase the airport’s capacity to 130 million passengers a year. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images
Heathrow wants to build a third runway which would increase the airport’s capacity to 130 million passengers a year. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

Passenger traffic at the world's busiest airport was up more than 2 per cent in the first six months of the year, boosted by strong growth in Middle East travellers.

The number of people passing through Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom rose by 2.4 per cent to 34.4 million in the first half of the year. The number of Middle East passengers outpaced the overall growth at 4 per cent to 2.8 million people, a figure outdone only by European traffic, which rose by 4.9 per cent to 14.3 million.

"Middle East traffic increased strongly, up 4 per cent to 2.8 million passengers with larger aircraft and passenger growth from Emirates, Etihad and Saudi Airlines," said the airport's half-yearly report.

Dubai International Airport, which was the world's 99th busiest hub 12 years ago, is now second, having overtaken Paris-Charles de Gaulle in March. In the first four months of the year it handled 21.9 million passengers, according to official figures.

The rise in passenger numbers will be welcomed by the owners of Heathrow airport as a fierce debate over its future continues to make headlines in the UK. The London mayor Boris Johnson had advocated developing a new airport on the Thames Estuary that has been dubbed "Boris Island" and has been more recently linked to a second site on the Isle of Grain.

Last year, more than 57.6 million passengers travelled through Dubai's airport, compared with Heathrow's tally of almost 70 million.

But Dubai airport is expected to leapfrog Heathrow by 2015, handling 75 million passengers, according to the emirate's civil aviation strategy plan.

The airport is undergoing a US$7.8 billion expansion to raise its capacity to about 100 million passengers by 2020. However, the figure will be dwarfed by the capacity of Dubai's new airport located near Jebel Ali, Al Maktoum International, which is expected to be able to handle 200 million passengers eventually.

By comparison, Heathrow wants to build a third runway, which would increase the airport's capacity to 130 million passengers a year.

One area where Dubai is already substantially outstripping Heathrow is in duty free sales.

In the first six months of the year, Heathrow's duty and tax free sales stood at £58million (Dh326.7m), an increase of 3.6 per cent.

However, Dubai Duty Free registered a 13 per cent rise in sales in the first six months to reach Dh3.2 billion, about 10 times as much as Heathrow.

 

gduncan@thenational.ae