Dubai airport widens gap over London's Heathrow

To fight wayward drones, Dubai's deploying a drone hunter
To fight wayward drones, Dubai's deploying a drone hunter

Dubai is already the world's busiest international airport and there's no sign of it relinquishing the title.

More than 83.6 million passengers traveled through Dubai International last year -- 5.6 million passengers, or 7%, more than in 2015. Its closest rival -- London's Heathrow -- saw passenger traffic grow just 1% to 75.7 million.

"All of our airlines generally felt that Dubai was still a high performing star in their network and were adding significant capacity," Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths told CNNMoney.

The city's home carriers - Emirates and flydubai -- also added more planes to their fleet, expanded their list of destinations and increased the frequency of flights to existing destinations, Griffiths said.

Dubai averaged 209 passengers per flight, the highest globally, he said.

Related: Etihad's CEO is out. What's next for the Gulf airline?

India is the largest single destination served by Dubai, followed by Saudi Arabia and the U.K. Despite the increase in traffic, growth slowed slightly last year.

"2016 was a extraordinary year in terms of global instability, particular political instability... which perhaps made people a little less adventurous in terms of their travel plans," said Griffiths.

dubai busy airport

Dubai still lags Atlanta and Beijing airports in terms of overall passenger numbers. They're a lot busier with domestic travel.

Dubai International airport is expecting 89 million passengers in 2017, but that target is dwarfed by the long term ambition of Dubai World Central -- the city's second airport which opened its doors to passengers in 2013.

A year later, a $32 billion expansion was announced to make it the biggest airport in the world with a capacity of 120 million passengers by 2025.

"There is the ability to gradually expand the size on a modular basis up to the design capacity of 240 [million]," Griffiths said.

A report by Oxford Economics estimates that Dubai's aviation sector will support more than one million jobs by 2030 and make up more than 40% of the emirate's gross domestic product.

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