The ascendancy of the Middle East’s airport infrastructure to the point at which is the major connection point for international air commerce is now a fact. It’s in the numbers.
For the past several years, professionals in the global travel and tourism industry have experienced growing evidence of this as they have pursued growth markets in Asia from destinations in Europe and the Americas. Ever since the modern era of international air commerce became a fact—most business historians would date it to the 1950s with the first use of jetliners for commercial purposes—the acknowledged hub of East-West connections was London.
This reality obtained through the beginning of the current century and into and through 2005—just before the young carriers of the Middle East began to acquire more aircraft, get approval for expanded routes and make connections between East and West.
What a Difference a Decade Makes: 2005 international passenger data show the pre-eminence of London as a base and connecting point for traffic: London’s Heathrow carried 70 million international passengers that year, while Gatwick (28.7 million) and Stansted (19.3 million) brought the location’s total international passengers to 118 million. Nowhere in the table below does one see an airport from the Middle East.
Source: Airports Council International
Today, it is not London, with its Heathrow and Gatwick Airports that anchor the major connecting point for international air commerce. The new hub—a cluster of three major airports in an area at the southern tip of the Persian Gulf—is comprised of Dubai International Airport (in Dubai, U.A.E.), Abu Dhabi International Airport (in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.) and Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar.
Dubai is the home base for Emirates airlines, with more aircraft of international passengers than any other in the world; Abu Dhabi serves as headquarters for Etihad; and Hamad International Airport is home base to Qatar Airways. Passengers from Asia are connecting to Europe and the Americas through these three points; and passengers from the Americas are heading to Asian and Pacific destinations through the area.
—Distance from Doha to Dubai International Airport: 235 miles
—Distance form Doha to Abu Dhabi International Airport: 187 miles
—Distance from Dubai International Airport to Abu Dhabi International Airport: 83 miles
The area around these base cities is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Maryland.
Just ten years after the three airports mentioned above appeared nowhere on the list of Top 30 Airports for International Passengers, the new list reads as follows.
It is probable that the dominance of the region as a hub and connecting point for international passenger traffic will increase as more carriers use the region for connections, layovers and more. In the latter category is Abu Dhabi International Airport, which is the only location in the Middle East and Continental Europe combined of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Preclearance facility.
Under its Preclearance program, CBP law enforcement personnel overseas inspect travelers prior to boarding U.S.-bound flights. They conduct the same immigration, customs, and agriculture inspections of international air travelers typically performed upon arrival in the United States before departure from foreign airports.
A number of carriers with flights to the U.S. are taking advantage of the preclearance option; one notable result is the resultant increase in traffic to the U.S. from India, which has grown to become a Top Ten overseas source market for the U.S. inbound tourism industry.