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Dubai International Airport had 86.9 million passengers last year in a post-pandemic surge

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The number of passengers flying through Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, surged last year beyond its total for 2019 — just before the coronavirus pandemic grounded global aviation.

While still shy of its all-time high in 2018, the figures for 2023 showed just how far the airport known as DXB has bounced back from the pandemic. The number of passengers passing through its cavernous, air-conditioned terminals, home to the long-haul carrier Emirates in Dubai, long has served as a barometer for the aviation industry worldwide and the wider economic health of this city-state.

Overall in 2023, the airport had 86.9 million passengers. The airport’s 2019’s annual traffic was 86.3 million passengers. The airport had 89.1 million passengers in 2018 — its busiest-ever year before the pandemic, while 66 million passengers passed through in 2022.

Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai Airports, made the announcement Monday on state-owned radio station Dubai Eye.

Passenger traffic largely has been driven by the airport’s standard travel destinations — India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Pakistan. Russia has also been a major market as Dubai remains one of the few places still open to Russians during Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

Dubai was among the first cities to reopen to tourists in the pandemic. That helped boost the city-state’s tourism industry, as attractions like the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and the sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab luxury hotel drew both visitors and transit passengers out of airport lounges.

Earlier in February, Dubai announced its best-ever tourism numbers, saying it hosted 17.15 million international overnight visitors in 2023. Average hotel occupancy stood around 77%. Meanwhile, its boom-and-bust real estate market remains on a hot streak, nearing all-time high valuations.

The airport has estimated it will serve 88.8 million passengers this year — nearing its all-time high. But that will put increasing pressure on the already-stretched airport, which had its highest-ever number of aircraft takeoffs and landings in a single year — 416,405.

Dubai has a second airport, Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) away in its far southern reaches. While used by commercial airlines when Qatar hosted the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the second airport that opened in 2010 largely sees cargo and private aircraft flights. Plans to put Emirates and other major carriers there have been repeatedly pushed off.

Dubai International Airport connects to 262 destinations in 104 countries worldwide via just over 100 international carriers.

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