The transfer of business aviation from Dubai International (DXB) to Dubai World Central (DWC) is picking up speed as business jet operators face a tightening squeeze at Dubai’s existing airport caused by dwindling slots and timing restrictions. Four charter operators have set up FBOs at DWC: Jet Aviation, Jetex, ExecuJet and DC Aviation-Al Futtaim. Dubai-based officials said 3,000 to 4,000 bizav aircraft movements would have to be transferred from DXB to DWC during the closure of DXB for runway rehabilitation, set to run for almost three months this year.
Both runways at DXB are scheduled to close for 80 days for major resurfacing work beginning May 1, with restrictions remaining in place until July 21. Dubai’s aviation authorities appear to be using the closure of the two runways at DXB to induce business aviation to move its operations to DWC.
The official stance on the possibility of business aviation’s returning to DXB at the end of July remains unclear. In a letter to airport users in May this year, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said that “freight, general aviation and charter operators will not be permitted to use DXB during the closure period.”
However, a Dubai International Conditions of Use Update effective October 27 issued by Dubai Airports said: “Starting from the IATA winter season 2013, ad hoc and charter operators are not permitted at Dubai International.”
Interpretations of the new status quo differ. “Business aviation operations will continue at Dubai after July 21, but at 30 percent of the current level. Some 70 percent of activity will move to DWC,” said Mouhanad Wadaa, general manager of Jetex Flight Support, which expects to maintain its office at Dubai Airport Free Zone serving business aviation when the closure ends. “After July, obtaining clearance to use Dubai for business aviation will not be a matter of status; it will [depend on] slots and parking availability.”
FBO and MRO Operations
Any private-jet operator seeking to remain at DXB will likely have to be an MRO service provider to qualify for continued occupation of premises at Dubai Airport Free Zone, adjacent to DXB. “Two handling companies for business aviation are likely to stay at DXB: Jet Aviation and ExecuJet, thanks to their MRO functions,” said Wadaa.
“No general aviation traffic will be allowed [during the DXB runway closures],” said Mike Berry, managing director of ExecuJet Middle East. “We have fairly substantial operations [at DXB] on the MRO side. We are looking at solutions [to keep that going in future]. We are willingly working with [Dubai Airports] on how to move across irrespective of the runway closure.”
ExecuJet, Jet Aviation and Jetex are believed to be sharing the same FBO facility at Al Maktoum International’s passenger terminal, before moving to facilities at the DWC site designated for business aviation next year. Berry said ExecuJet would lock its DXB hangars during the closure and had already set up DWC line stations to deal with diverted traffic.
ExecuJet is in talks with the Dubai Aviation City Corporation (DACC) and Dubai Airports authorities to carry out a permanent move to DWC, he said. “We are dealing with the DACC authorities and Dubai World Central. [The goal is the] permanent establishment of MRO and FBO facilities on property under their control. Our long-term plan is to keep a footprint on both locations.”
Jet Aviation said it expects its business aviation operations to change from an even split between DXB and DWC today to 75 percent DWC and 25 percent DXB after the reopening of DXB next summer.
“We have no slots at DXB from May 1 to July 21. All traffic must be moved to DWC, so if we have to do some heavy maintenance we will have to bring the airplane in [ahead of those dates],” said Philippe Gerard, Jet Aviation’s FBO director. “There is no problem on the FBO side. It’s a problem on the MRO side. For now, we don’t have a hangar at DWC, just the FBO. All line maintenance will be conducted at DWC. All our MRO employees have passes for DWC. Only base maintenance will be affected.”
Asked if DXB access to Jet Aviation would be barred after July 21, he said: “No, we don’t have any [information that] we can’t come back after the closure. We will [restart operations] at DXB as usual. We and ExecuJet will operate at both airports. We will keep…both operations.”
“All the big cities in the world have more than one airport. The capacity of DXB is fully utilized. [The airport] is operating at 105-percent capacity. Today there can be queues of up to 13 aircraft awaiting takeoff,” said Wadaa. “At DWC, there will be state-of-the-art general aviation terminal services for all VIPs flying in and out of Dubai. DWC will be a next-generation business aviation hub.”
Mirroring the progress of bizav, Wadaa expects construction of Midfield Terminal Phase I, the likely main focus for scheduled passenger traffic throughput in future, to start in 2015. “I can see the demand for it. If I were a private company, I would [want to start now]. I expect the terminal to be operational in 2018, with a capacity of 30- to 35 million passengers, to streamline the business growth of the Dubai airports.
“I do believe in the government vision for DWC. It’s a huge plan: they are looking 50 years ahead,” Wadaa said.
In the end, officials say Dubai is building a huge airport because it has the space, and is planning several decades ahead, rather than one or two. It seems as if all Dubai need do is build it and they will come.