Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC), Dubai’s second airport, originally planned to accommodate 160 million passengers when complete, will see its development speeded up dramatically if Dubai’s bid to host World Expo 2020 is successful.
The Paris-based International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE) will announce the results of the four-way contest, between São Paolo, Yekaterinburg, Izmir and Dubai, on November 27. Expectations are high here in the Middle East, given the slickness of Dubai’s bid–after it was a last-minute entrant to the BIE bidding process in 2011–that the ambitious emirate will come out on top.
“I think that would put us very much in the limelight,” said Khalifa Al Zaffin, executive director of Dubai Aviation City Corp. (DACC), the government entity overseeing development at Dubai World Central (DWC). “I am afraid that we might end up really accelerating the program for Jebel Ali and probably bring it to the year 2020, which is quite a job to do,” he told AIN. “All of the region, Dubai and all our neighbors and friends, [are] waiting. We hope we win it.”
The Middle East Economic Digest reported in March that airport operator Dubai Airports was “preparing proposals to double the emirate’s passenger handling capacity to 200 million passengers a year by 2045, up from the current target of 100 million a year by 2020.”
Al Zaffin confirmed recent reports that Dubai’s target capacity had been increased to 200 million passengers a year three decades from now, even hinting that the figure would apply to DWC alone. “It is true, we are looking at that [for] Jebel Ali only. If you look now, we are 60 million at [Dubai International]. So, yes, I think it is achievable. And doable.”
Strategic Plan 2020
The blueprints represent a dramatic reassessment of earlier plans embodied in the “Strategic Plan 2020,” published by Dubai Airports in July 2011, which forecast DXB would hit capacity in 2018 at around 90 million passengers. A fourth concourse is under construction at DXB, after the opening of the Airbus A380-dedicated Concourse A in January brought the airport’s capacity up to 75 million.
“It’s a very [ambitious] plan, [but] DXB is almost reaching capacity,” he said. “[We] will be lucky [if] it [ever] accommodates 100 million passengers.”
Last year, Al Zaffin told AIN that any plan to move Emirates in its entirety to DWC is unworkable in the next decade due to a $100 billion infrastructure price tag. Current suggestions indicate that Emirates would not move until 2025-27 at the earliest. However, Emirates SkyCargo is thought to be planning the transfer of dedicated freighters to DWC in 2014, due to the phased temporary closure of DXB’s two runways for upgrade work in May-July next year.
Nevertheless, aviation officials say the government of Dubai is already investing $33 billion in development at DWC and budget allocations would likely rise if the Expo bid is successful. Other planning assessments indicate that one day DXB will be Emirates-only.
“We have finalized the aviation city and it is ready to go. We have customers there. The logistics city is growing and we have a lot of customers for buildings [there]. We have a lot of interest on the real estate side,” said Al Zaffin. “Almost all the people who have signed up with us have reserved [space for] expansion plans.
“We [saw] the airport [being] opened [to passenger airlines] on October 27, and [are looking at] the airshow opening on November 17 and hopefully [a successful bid to host] the [World] Expo  on November 27,” he said. “Everything is looking good.”
Business Aviation Capacity
Al Zaffin is also mindful of the potential for business aviation at DWC. “Part of the general aviation is already operating at Al Maktoum now, and it is increasing,” he said. “We are expecting a lot of growth in that area. All of them [business and general aviation] will go here, because the international airport will be open for all.”
The extent to which business aviation has migrated to DWC is not yet clear, although Jet Aviation opened an FBO at DWC last year, and several private-jet operators are throwing their weight behind a transfer from DXB. DC Aviation-Al Futtaim (DCAF), a joint venture (JV) between Germany’s DC Aviation and the Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Group, also recently announced the completion of an FBO at DWC. “We have some announcements, but we will be making them at the airshow,” said Rashid Bu Qara’a, chief operating officer at DACC.
To date, development of DWC has very much taken place on an incremental basis to meet immediate demands. This could change with the Expo bid, as additional terminal infrastructure would be required. Al Zaffin has revised plans for new DWC infrastructure and runways, after telling AIN last year he expects an additional runway to be built within five years. “We are looking at probably two more runways within five years, and one more will [happen even] quicker [than that]. Within five years, hopefully we will have part of the midfield terminal complete.”
Little reference to date has been made to DWC’s midfield terminal, although it is clearly visible in 2012 DWC blueprints. Development timing would hinge on runway construction. Plans also exist for humanitarian, exhibition, residential and golf districts. A logistics corridor and bridge connecting DWC to Jebel Ali Port has already been built.
The migration strategy for DWC started with cargo operations in June 2010, with business aviation operations successfully beginning in 2012. Commercial aviation commenced at the end of October, with the arrival of Hungary-based low-cost carrier Wizz Air. As of late October it was still not clear whether the major Arab player to join Wizz Air would be Saudi Arabia’s Nas Air or Kuwait’s Al Jazeera Airways.
Winning the right to host World Expo 2020 would certainly speed up an exit from the waiting game that the global slowdown imposed on Dubai. Success would be the biggest vindication yet for Dubai’s plans to turn itself into the trade and aviation crossroads of the world.