More than three years after completion of its five-million-passenger-capacity terminal at Dubai World Central (DWC), passenger operations at DWC’s Al Maktoum International Airport finally launched October 27 with the arrival of Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air, Bahrain’s Gulf Air and Kuwait’s Al Jazeera Airways.
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, said the company was in negotiations with several other potential participants but would not comment on the identities of possible new players. News reports said Condor Flugdienst would launch operations into DWC in late November, Kyrgyzstan Air Company in December and Qatar Airways in March 2014.
Emirates Sky Cargo’s dedicated freighters will move to a new base at DWC next year, while Air France-KLM earlier announced that DWC would become its Middle East freighter hub from August 1 this year.
Wizz Air flew 12 million passengers in 2012 and expects its Dubai operations to add 200,000 more next year. It did not speculate on how Dubai’s place in the airline’s strategy would grow in the future. “We have 14 flights a week, four times [each] to Budapest and Kiev and three times [each] to Bucharest and Sofia. That is a total capacity of 200,000,” Wizz Air CEO József Váradi told AIN. “That is a fairly substantial strategy on a new market from a new airline. We feel good about it.”
Váradi founded Wizz Air in 2003 after an earlier stint as CEO of Malev, Hungary’s now defunct flag carrier. The airline is majority-owned by German transportation financier DVB Bank, while Phoenix, Ariz.-based Indigo Partners, a private equity firm which pursues acquisitions and investments in the air transportation industry, is also a shareholder, Váradi said.
Wizz Air orders for A320 variants stretch out the best part of the coming decade. “We have an orderbook of 70 aircraft to be delivered from Airbus, mostly A320s,” he said. “We just confirmed that we converted some of these A320s into A321s; 26 of those planes we will deliver as A321s starting in 2016. Certainly we have plenty of capacity coming down the line that enables us to take [new] opportunities. This is going to cover us for the next six to seven years.”
Váradi said passengers seeking to connect to Dubai from Western Europe could hub via Budapest and elsewhere. “Some people may connect, that is fine. If you look at the London market, we have four daily services between Budapest and London Luton. But also we have multiple daily services from all the other markets that we are linking up Dubai from. [Hubbing] is very possible and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Al Maktoum Airport currently has one runway open and it is not clear when more runways will be added. The original plan called for six runways, before the financial crisis hit in 2007 and affected Dubai badly. Over the past year or so optimism has returned and it seems the UAE has returned to a “Back to Plan A” approach to growth. It is believed that operators at Dubai International Airport (DXB) have been prompted to make their plans to move to Al Maktoum, which is much further from the epicentre of the city still, although it is closer to the new area around Jebel Ali, and to Abu Dhabi. This will leave only Emirates and its low-cost sister company FlyDubai as the incumbent airlines at DXB, although it is not clear when the latest plan calls for the transition to be complete.