After decades of dominance as the world’s top international air hub, Dubai International Airport surpassed London’s Heathrow in 2014 to become the world’s number one in terms of international passengers.
Spurred by the growth of local carrier Emirates, which now has the world’s biggest twin-aisle fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbo airliners, Dubai International welcomed 70.5 million passengers in 2014—almost all of them traveling to or from locations outside of Dubai. Heathrow attracted 68.1 million international travelers in 2014. The opening of another concourse later this year will lift the airport’s capacity to 90 million passengers.
That dominance in international passengers may be short-lived, however, as the United Arab Emirates sheikdom is currently expanding Al Maktoum International Airport 25 miles away, an airport designed to handle upwards of 240 millon passengers a year. The two airports will be linked by a high-speed rail system.
The rise of Dubai International Airport is attributable to its location at the geographical crossroads between Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, making it an ideal hub for international transfer flights, and Dubai officials expect exponential growth over the next decade.
“We’re planning to overtake ourselves,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, told Bloomberg News. The larger challenge, he said, is to provide “the level of sercie on the ground that passengers on Emirates experience in the air.”
In terms of total passenger volume, Dubai International currently ranks third in the world behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, which recorded 96.2 million passengers in 2014, and Beijing Capital International, which attracted 86.1 million. Most of their passengers, however, are from domestic flights. Dubai was seventh in 2013, behind Atlanta, Beijing, Heathrow, Tokyo Haneda, Chicago’s O’Hare and Los Angeles International, according to the Airports Council International, which keeps the official statistics.
Dubai International isn’t the only airport in the region attracting international flights and growing rapidly. Neighboring Abu Dhabi International Airport, which is the home base of Etihad Airways, the Gulf region’s third-largest carrier, saw a growth of more than 20 percent last year to 20 million passengers. A total of 24 million passengers is projected for 2015.