Deserted Dubai Airport terminal comes back to life

KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

Eighteen months ago, its terminals were teeming with transiting passengers or travelers arriving to enjoy some desert sunshine, then Dubai International Airport became a ghost of its former self.

After retaining its crown in 2019 as the world’s busiest airport for international passengers, by early 2021 the effects of the pandemic had left many of its corridors and gates standing empty, like other such facilities around the world.

Now the airport is hoping to reclaim some of its pre-pandemic glory. On Thursday it brought its main Terminal One out of mothballs and reopened Concourse D, the huge retail area that connects to it.

It’s a move that will be watched with eagerness and caution by the economically battered global aviation industry as it looks for shoots of recovery after months of empty skies and emptier bank accounts.

If the world’s leading international hub for air passengers is getting back on its feet, then that could be an indication that other destinations and air routes will follow.

“Dubai’s aviation sector has been at the forefront of a global campaign to restore vital international air services with the opening of quarantine-free travel corridors between the UAE and multiple countries around the world,” Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Airports, said in a press release.

DXB’s Terminal One is home to all international airlines that operate out of the airport, except for Dubai’s Emirates, flydubai and Australia’s Qantas Airways, all of which operate out of Terminal Three.

The reopening of these key facilities will enable the gradual return of more than 40 international carriers, of which some are currently operating reduced services from other terminals, the statement added.

Concourse D and Terminal One are linked by airport train, and the reopening of both will allow for an annual capacity of an additional 18 million passengers, according to Dubai Airports.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, said the airport could even see passenger numbers reaching around 26 million passengers this year, roughly the same amount it received last year.

If global travel restrictions continue to ease, the number could be significantly above that, he told CNN.

He also said the reopening of Terminal One could mean the addition of 3,500 jobs across Dubai’s aviation industry, including airport, airlines, and food and beverage staff.

While there is progressive improvement, John Strickland, independent aviation analyst and director of JLS Consulting, says there’s “no way” Dubai will recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

“We’re too far gone in the year,” he says. “If you look at Emirates, which is of course, Dubai’s biggest customer, it’s flying around 20 A380s a week out of a fleet of around 115 in the past. That’s already an indicator of low percentage of activity.”

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