Dubai International Airport (DXB) is preparing for an extensive runway closure next month. From May 9 until June 22, the Northern runway will be out of service for refurbishment. It will definitely have an impact on the operations of its major users, Emirates and flydubai, but by how much? DXB runway closure will hurt Emirates – again.

The last time that the Northern runway was refurbished as extensively as this year was in 2014, so Dubai Airports says it needs to be done. In 2019, the Southern runway was done, but there were significant differences between the two years. The 2014 refurbishment took a lengthy eighty days, which was reduced to 45 in 2019. The upcoming upgrade will also take 45 days again.

As for the impact of the closures, Emirates says in its 2014 annual report that it had an impact on revenues of an estimated $657 million on Emirates airline and its airport operator dnata. Passenger numbers from Dubai Airports for the May-July 2014 period show they were down from sixteen to 15.4 million, with June 8.5 percent lower compared to the same month in 2013.

In 2019, the 45-day runway closure again forced Emirates to reduce its flight schedule and capacity by 25 percent. With fewer frequencies, load factors were actually higher at 78.5 percent from 76.8 percent in 2018, but core passenger revenues were down by 3.9 percent mainly thanks to the runway closure and the effects of the first Covid-wave which happened in Emirates’ FY2019-2020. With fewer aircraft movements, cargo capacity was down ten percent. Dnata handled three percent fewer aircraft.

Dubai Airport doesn’t specify the monthly traffic figures for 2019, so the exact impact of the closure from May 24 isn’t evident. However, traffic in Q2 was 9.2 percent down to 19 million passengers compared to 2018 figures.

Traffic is still much lower compared to 2019

Although significant, the impact of the works might be less compared to the two previous refurbishments. Dubai International is still operating at a much lower level compared to the pre-Covid era in 2019. That year, it handled 86.4 million passengers. This dropped to 25.9 million in 2020, with a slight recovery to 29.1 million in 2021, when it ramped up capacity. In Q4, it handled more than ten million passengers for the first time again since Q1 2020, of which 4.5 million in December. No numbers for January and February are available yet.   

Back in 2019, some 3.000 flights were relocated from DXB to Dubai World Central. Dubai Airport said that “a number of flights’ will be redirected to Dubai World Central/Al Maktoum Airport. flydubai has announced that it will move flights to 34 of its ninety destinations to DWC again. This means a return to DWC for flydubai for the first time since the start of the pandemic when the low-cost carrier abandoned the airport that is well away from downtown Dubai. Its return will be short-lived as after the runway upgrade has been completed, flydubai will move all its flights again back to DXB.

Emirates has factored in runway closure in its schedule

Emirates tells AirInsight that it has factored in the runway closure into its operation and flight schedule. SkyCargo flights will be moving back to DWC from next week. “Emirates is closely working with DXB on the planned northern runway rehabilitation project to ensure a seamless experience for customers departing and transiting through Dubai during that time”, an Emirates spokesperson says.

Building on best practices from the previous two runway rehabilitation projects at DXB in 2014 and 2019, Emirates already has response plans in place to ensure that our operations maintain On-Time Performance while utilizing a single runway, while reducing instances of flight delays and disruptions across our destination network. We will also regularly communicate to customers to mitigate delays by encouraging them to arrive at the airport early and utilize the various convenient options we have made available for smooth processing at check-in.” 

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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