When we departed Dubai airport we were flying from the busiest international airport in the world. Sure there are busier airports with big domestic markets, but this year DXB has edged out London’s Heathrow as the airport serving the most international passengers.
Dubai airport’s meteoric rise has largely been on the back of Emirates. Emirates was only founded in 1994 and, in a world where most big movers in aviation have been low cost carriers, it has made a conventional hub-and-spoke strategy work. It’s now the operator of 777s, A380s one of the fastest growing carriers in the world.
Here are eight the many reasons why Emirates has been successful.
1. High wealth passenger; low cost labour
Rich countries have wealthy travelers, but labour in them tends to be expensive. Poor countries have cheap labour, but nobody flies. Dubai is a rare example where there is a wealthy flying population, but the basic labour needed to run an airline (think baggage handlers) is incredibly cheap because it’s all guest workers. This keeps operational costs down and lets Emirates offer competitive fares.
Because the labour force can’t unionise Emirates can also do things like decide to have its major banks of flights in the middle of the night when its colder and aircraft need to burn less fuel on takeoff. And none of them can really complain.
2. A natural crossroads
Most airlines that have success disproportionate to their home population are based in big port cities. Think Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, or Copa Airlines. The cities they fly from (Singapore, Hong Kong, Panama City) represent natural geographic transit points.
Dubai does not have a port of the same scale, but it still represents a historic crossroads between cultures. This kinds of position and cosmopolitanism can be leveraged to make a hub airport, and the Dubai crossroads is all the more important given where the world’s population is growing. These days Dubai is within eight hours flight time of half of the world’s population.
Some great examples of connections that make sense via Dubai include:
- The growing stream of Chinese setting up businesses all over “Africa province”
- South Asian and Filipino guest workers heading to the Middle East
- South Asians heading to Europe and the Americas
- The Kangaroo route, as discussed below