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Heathrow is no longer the world’s biggest international travel hub

Mideast Emirates Dubai Airport Boss
AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili
Dubai can now add “busiest” to its growing list of superlatives.
By Zainab Mudallal
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

For a city that revels in superlatives, Dubai now has another one it can brag about. After months of anticipation, Dubai is officially home to the world’s busiest airport for international passenger traffic, according to data from Airports Council International.

68.9 million passengers passed through Dubai International Airport over the 12 months ending in September of 2014, compared with 67.8 million at Heathrow. And Dubai’s main airport snagged these numbers despite being reduced to a single runway for 80 days, causing a temporary decline in flights. (Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport was the world’s busiest in 2013 when you include domestic flights, too.)

It’s no surprise that more and more people are visiting the city. Once a nearly empty desert, Dubai now an urban metropolis with towering skyscrapers, islands shaped like palm trees, and a bustling expat population drawn to its financial sector and luxurious lifestyle. With indoor ski slopes, warm weather, international sporting events, and the world’s tallest building and biggest mall, the city is a growing tourist destination. It was the fifth most visited city in 2014, closely behind London and Paris and ahead of New York. And now the city is gearing up to host the 2020 World Expo, a global gathering expected to draw millions of visitors. Paired with Dubai’s propensity for outlandish real estate development, it’s led to a boom in the construction sector (and home prices).

Responding to the growth in visitors, the emirate recently budgeted $32 billion to expand its second airport, Al Maktoum. It will be able to handle 120 million passengers, which will make it the busiest airport in the world when the expansion is completed in 2022, or thereabouts.

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