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Passengers wait to board an Emirates Airbus A380 aircraft at Concourse A of Dubai airport on Feb. 10, 2013.

KAMRAN JEBREILI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The city with the world's tallest building can now boast that it's home to the world's busiest airport for international passengers too.

Dubai's airport operator released figures Tuesday showing that 70.5 million passengers streamed through the sparkling halls of Dubai International last year. That's a 6 per cent increase over the 66.4 million that the Gulf city's main airport handled in 2013.

The rapid growth puts Dubai squarely ahead of London Heathrow for the first time on a full-year basis as the world's busiest international air hub. Heathrow reported handled 68.1 million international passengers in 2014.

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Dubai pulled off the big gains despite having to redirect flights to the city's second airport, Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central, while it overhauled the airport's two side-by-side runways over the summer.

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths predicts Dubai International will handle a record 79 million passengers this year as it offers "more flights connecting more people to more destinations."

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport remains the planet's busiest passenger airport overall.

But Dubai International is expanding fast, fueled by the growth of hometown airline Emirates and smaller budget carrier FlyDubai. They benefit from Dubai's position between major population centres in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Both airlines and the airports are owned by the emirate's government, which has championed aviation as a central driver of the city's economy.

Once a sleepy fishing village, Dubai has boomed in recent decades and is now the Middle East's skyscraper-studded, cosmopolitan commercial hub. It is also home to the region's biggest sea port and the 828-metre-tall Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower.

The airport has been climbing the international aviation traffic rankings for years as it added capacity to accommodate the growing numbers of big wide-body planes like the Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 that Emirates favours.

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A new 20-gate concourse purpose-built to handle the double-decker A380 opened in 2013. Yet another new concourse is under construction as part of a wider $7.8-billion (U.S.) expansion plan.

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