Dubai airport sees rare annual drop in passenger traffic in 2019

(This officially corrects that annual passenger traffic fell not for first time ever in February 5 story.)

DOHA (Reuters) – Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest airport for international travelers, handled 86.4 million passengers in 2019, dropping 3.1% from the previous year to post a rare annual fall in traffic.

Chief Executive Paul Griffiths said factors behind the drop included a temporary runway closure, the collapse of ’s Jet Airways <JET.NS>, and the worldwide grounding of the Boeing <BA.N> 737 MAX. The airport lost an estimated potential 3.2 million passengers as a consequence, he said.

Dubai is a popular destination for Indian airlines such as Jet, while flydubai, based at the airport, is a major MAX customer.

A spokesman initially said it was the first time ever annual passenger traffic had fallen but later clarified it had also fallen in 1986 and 1991.

Passenger traffic had also disappointed in 2018, when a return to double digit growth had been expected, but instead it grew just 1%, its slowest pace in 15 years.

Aircraft landings and takeoffs fell 8.6% to 373,261 during 2019, while the average number of passengers per flight increased 5.8% to 239.

Passenger traffic increased by 1.3% in the fourth quarter to 21.9 million, with the airport handling average 7.2 million passengers each month throughout the year.

First quarter passenger traffic is likely to be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak in , has led to travel curbs and suspension of flights to and from the world’s biggest economy.

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, is suspending all passenger flights to and from mainland China, except Beijing, from Feb. 5.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Shri Navaratnam & Simon Cameron-Moorte)