Doha overtakes Dubai to become Middle East’s busiest airport

Multiple factors have been said to have influenced the takeover, including the relaxation of a four-year blockade and the continuation of services throughout the pandemic  

Travel data and analytics firm, ForwardKeys, has released its latest research which found that Doha Airport has overtaken Dubai as the most prominent hub in the Middle East.  

The volume of air tickets sold in first six months of this year for travel through Qatar was recorded to be 18% higher than it was through the UAE hub. Current bookings are also suggesting that this trend is set to continue.  

At the beginning of the year, Doha’s air traffic sat at 77% compared to Dubai’s. However, it reached 100% by January 27.  

Hamad International Airport
Photo Hamad International Airport

An apparent factor in the Qatar hub’s overtake was the lifting of a blockade of flights to and from the country which was originally put in place by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudia Arabia and the UAE, when Qatar was accused of sponsoring terrorism. This was first put in place back in June 2017.  

Although the obstruction had a negative impact of aircraft movements in the region, the airport and its main carrier, Qatar Airways, inaugurated an additional 24 routes once the ban was put in place to try and secure operations.  

“Without the blockade, which encouraged the establishment of new routes as a strategy to replace lost traffic, perhaps we would not have seen Doha charging past Dubai,” said Olivier Ponti, VP of insights for ForwardKeys. “So, it seems that the seeds of Doha’s relative success were, ironically, sown by the adverse actions of its neighbours. 

“However, one needs to bear in mind that flights through the Middle East during H1 2021 were still 81% below pre-pandemic levels. So, as the recovery gathers pace, the picture could change significantly.” 

Since the beginning of this year, five new services have been reopened from Doha, including Cairo, Dammam, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh whilst traffic on other flights increased.  

Qatar’s hub also added Seattle, San Francisco and Abidjan to its network in December 2020, January 2021 and June, respectively.  

Existing routes that are showing the strongest growth in regard to passenger numbers from Qatar are Sao Paulo, which has increased by 137%, Kyiv, rising by 53%, Dhaka, up 29% and Stockholm, presenting a 6.7% incline.  

Research conducted by the firm also suggests that seat capacity between Doha and destinations in the Middle East in the third quarter should be only 5.6% less than pre-pandemic figures.  

Another contributing factor to the Qatar hub’s success is that during the Covid-19 crisis, the airport continued operating many of its routes, becoming a major site for repatriation flights.