In the realm of superlatives, you can’t get very far without mentioning Dubai.
The world’s largest indoor theme park? Check. The world’s tallest building? All official, 2,716.5 feet of it, in Dubai. The world’s largest floral installation in the world’s largest flower garden? Believe it.
It’s of little surprise, then, that the city-emirate can also lay claim to having the world’s busiest airport for international passengers.
Not only does Dubai International hold the title, based on 2016 data, but it’s held the title since 2014, when it overtook London Heathrow. (It currently serves nearly eight million more passengers than the European hub.)
According to Reuters, annual traffic at Dubai International rose 7.2 percent to 83.6 million passengers in 2016 from some 78 million in 2015. Eleven new passenger destinations and greater flight frequencies from local carriers helped bump up passenger traffic, as did new services from India’s SpiceJet, Jet Airways, and Air India. Nepal Airlines and Russia’s Rossiya Airlines also launched flights to Dubai in 2016.
Perhaps most importantly, Dubai International is also home to long-haul carrier Emirates, which has helped transform the airport into one of the world’s premier stopover destinations for travelers on their way to—or from—places like Budapest, Beijing, and Boston. Three in five Emirates fliers, in fact, are connecting to somewhere else. India, with 11.4 million travelers, is the airport’s largest market, followed by Saudi Arabia, with 6.9 million.
But what’s to come for the hub?
Dubai International Chief Executive Officer Paul Griffiths told Bloomberg Television that the airport expects approximately 89 million travelers in 2017: at a growth rate of 6.4 percent, this gain would be the weakest in ten years. Nevertheless, Griffiths was quick to look on the bright side, and said he remained confident that Dubai International will be able to overtake Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and Beijing Capital airports as the world’s busiest hub, period, by 2020, and that it is on track to reach its goal of 118 million annual travelers by 2023. (Beijing handled 94.3 million passengers in 2016, and while Atlanta has yet to report figures, it saw 101 million in 2015.)
In true Dubai fashion, however, there’s also another grander, flashier plan: Come 2025, flagship carrier Emirates will shift its flights to the newer Al Maktoum International Airport, which opened in June 2010 with one runway and service for cargo flights and began serving air travel passengers in 2013.
Al Maktoum International, named after the royal family, has five runways to Dubai International’s two, and a $ 36 billion investment in the 54-square-mile Dubai World Central campus from the sheikhdom will reportedly result in three passenger terminals (one dedicated entirely to Emirates); centers for royal jets; hotels and malls; 100,000 parking spots; and a yet-to-be-built high-speed rail connection to Dubai International, which sits some 25 miles north of Al Maktoum International. The airport is expected to serve 120 million passengers by 2025, with total capacity scheduled to exceed 220 million passengers, according to Bloomberg