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Major sandstorm disrupts flights at Gulf airports

A major sandstorm across the United Arab Emirates disrupted flights at Dubai’s two international airports on Thursday and caused delays at other air transport centres in the Gulf, according to authorities.

The thick orange haze that had blanketed Saudi Arabia on Wednesday moved eastwards and severely reduced visibility, threatening to continue delays and cancellations for the rest of the day, the Dubai Airports live flight status website showed.

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Dubai International was the world’s busiest airport for international passenger traffic in 2014, replacing London’s Heathrow for the first time, as 70.5 million passengers travelled through the airport.

“Bad weather conditions persisting across the Gulf region since morning have affected normal operations at Dubai International (DXB) and Al Maktoum International (DWC),” Dubai Airports, which operates both facilities, said in a statement.

In a later emailed statement, Dubai Airports said it had re-routed some flights during the day to Al Maktoum, Dubai’s second airport that mainly handles cargo, and was working with all airlines to minimise disruption.

Flights into the international airport in neighbouring Abu Dhabi from Dammam, Muscat, Bahrain, Ras Al Khaimah and Mumbai during the morning were either delayed or cancelled, according to the flight status page on the airport’s website.

But Abu Dhabi Airports Company, the airport’s operator, said in a statement that “flight departure and landing are proceeding as normal with no delays or diversions to any of the scheduled flights from and to Abu Dhabi International Airport due to the sandstorm.”

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It said a departure from Abu Dhabi to Dammam in eastern Saudi Arabia and another to Bahrain had been delayed, but this was due to the bad weather conditions at those airports.

Air Arabia, which has a base in the smaller emirates of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, has also experienced delays to scheduled flights due to the weather, a spokesman for the low-cost airline said.

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Civil Aviation said in a statement late on Wednesday that flights from Riyadh, Dammam, Qassim and Hafr al-Batin had either been delayed or rescheduled due to the sandstorm.

Operations returned to normal on Thursday, it added.

A Qatar Airways spokesman reported minor disruption to some of its flights at Doha’s Hamad International Airport on Thursday morning.

Bahrain Airport’s flight schedule shows some cancelled and delayed regional flights operated by Gulf Air, with few other disruptions.