Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Even as travel demand picks up at Dubai airport after the pandemic, this is the right time for a runway refurbishment, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said on Wednesday.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Griffiths said the refurbishment is timed perfectly between the Eid holidays and summer break, and the impact on passengers and airlines will be minimum.

DXB’s northern runway will be closed for a 45-day period between May 9 and June 22, 2022, Dubai Airports had announced in March.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Is this the right time for a refurbishment? Travel demand had been low for the past two years and has just started to peak. Dubai saw 2.2 million visitors in the first two months of this year alone.

A. It takes a long time to plan a runway refurbishment. We had been planning this for the last 18 months. The thought of delaying the project did cross our minds, considering that travel demand is picking up. But we have timed it well between the Eid rush and the summer holidays. It could not have been done earlier.

Q. What about the impact on passenger demand?

We will not get back to pre-Covid numbers until 2023. We have a projection of 57 million passengers this year, and we are already at 66 per cent of normal pre-Covid traffic. Growth has been incredibly strong. This refurbishment will see us through for the next few years, when travel demand is completely back to pre-pandemic levels.

(DXB was the world’s busiest airport by international passenger numbers for the eighth consecutive year after clocking 29.1 million in annual traffic in 2021. The annual traffic exceeded forecasts for the year by more than half a million passengers.)

Read more

Q. How do you decide which flights will move to DWC during the refurbishment programme?

This takes intense negotiations. We had been in conversation with airlines for a long time. What we have done is that all airlines that have a once-daily service to DXB have remained unaffected, while those that have multiple flights a day have seen some services shift to DWC.

Overall, 32-33 per cent of total flights will have to move to DWC during the refurbishment period.

Emirates and flydubai will be bearing the brunt of this capacity reductions.

(flydubai will operate flights to 34 destinations from DWC during the refurbishment period, the airline had said earlier. Flights to five of these destinations will also be available from DXB during this period.)

Q. What can be done to make DWC an attractive travel hub for airlines and passengers?

DXB will remain a preferred hub for airlines. It’s the central connecting point for all carriers. It’s the same everywhere else. If you take London, Heathrow is the airport of choice, even though there are airlines operating out of Gatwick and Stansted. It’s the same in Tokyo that has two major airports, Narita and Haneda, the latter being located much closer to central Tokyo.

DXB will remain a super hub, and all airlines will want to be here to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the competitors. Not everyone wants to go to DWC because you are then cut off from the rest of the market and the competitors. Passenger footfall there is much lower. DXB is much closer to the city and has the best connections with every major city in the world.

Q. Do you think DXB should have another runway to further boost capacity?

We have limited space at DXB, and there’s no scope of adding a third runway here. The development around the airport limits our options. We had done an assessment earlier, and the conclusion was to boost capacity of the runway and airport to at least 120 million passengers a year.

It’s hard to say when we will hit the 120 million target. The pandemic has changed all our assessments and projections. An extra runway alone is not the answer.

For the next few years, DXB will serve us well, and it’s only much later – if at all – that we will begin our shift to DWC, which is a much larger development.

Q. You mentioned last year in June that 3,500 jobs are set to come up as Terminal 1 reopens – by airlines, the airport, service partners, etc. How far along have we come now?

The airport is fully staffed to function optimally. We had measures in place for all our requirements, from check-in counters to maintenance and cleaning operations. We had set up partnerships much earlier, and used the pandemic period to plan for a return back to normal. The period was used for intense training and development of the staff, so that they are fully prepared when things go back to normal.

We are not facing the manpower problems some of our other partners and competitors around the world are facing. We are fully up to speed.