HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline & Group, accompanied by dignitaries and government officials, inaugurated the first-ever airshow to take place at Dubai World Central by touring the new airport’s facilities yesterday.
Middle East bizjet fest MEBA 2012, which is now being compared to European show EBACE and NBAA in the U.S., heralds a move by business and general aviation to Dubai World Central (DWC), the new airport complex in Dubai planned to eventually replace Dubai International Airport (DXB).
Business aviation’s transfer to DWC is the second plank in a government of Dubai plan to develop niche sectors at the site, also known as Al Maktoum International Airport, after original blueprints for it to replace DXB where shelved due to the global slowdown. Cargo operations began in earnest in 2011 and business aviation is also expected to make a strong showing.
HH Sheikh Ahmed spent the morning touring the show, accompanied by HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE minister for foreign trade; Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways’ CEO; Ali Al Naqbi, founding chairman of MEBAA; Khalifa Al Zaffin, Chairman of Dubai World Central; and Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.
“Business aviation will be transferred to this airport mainly due to [lack of] slots and timing [at DXB],” said Sheikh Ahmed, in remarks to reporters during the tour. “There are nice facilities here [for it]. It is close to the Marina area, Jebel Ali, and well connected to more than three highways, including Emirates Road and Sheikh Zayed Road.”
Asked to comment about improvements in ease of access, he said that a helicopter service could be introduced for VIP travelers. “I am sure, we, as the operator running this airport, will be happy to give business people a licence to operate, if they require one.”
“This superb facility was opened to receive MEBA traffic and will now increasingly service the VIP aviation market, giving easy access particularly to the new Dubai area,” said Dubai Airports’ Griffiths.
Al Naqbi conducted Sheikh Ahmed on a tour of several new and existing global businesses now in Dubai, such as Aurora Aviation, The Jet Business and CAE, which is now well established here. He also inspected an overhead projection of Dubai World Central, which depicts an eventual airport configuration of five runways, passenger terminals, a logistic park, an “exhibition city,” residential areas and even a golf course.
The remoteness of the show location–taxi drivers who had no knowledge of the location were reportedly in certain cases unable to bring fares to the site–has raised doubts about the wisdom of moving the show from its original, more convenient, location at Dubai International Airport.
Responding to questions, MEBAA’s Al Naqbi, dismissed any criticism: “The turn-out is perfect. Seven thousand five hundred visitors never happened in the history of my shows. Numbers prior to opening have always been [a lot smaller]. We have 7,500. That’s a great turn-out. We are very excited about it. This [show] is going to be huge [in future].”
“It was very important for us to talk to the new people who have just joined [MEBAA] and to welcome them. And to thank them,” Al Naqbi said. “A lot of people were concerned about coming to a new venue. We have new companies, which come from far, so that is great.”
In the static park, the delegation also visited Saudia Private Aviation’s Dassault Falcon 7X, Comlux’s Boeing 767 configured for business travellers, a privately owned ACJ320 variant, and Bell Helicopters’ Bell 427, in which Dubai Police is believed to be interested.
Official F&E Aerospace figures released Tuesday referred to expectations the show would host “7,075 industry visits” during MEBA 2012. However, at 34 aircraft (as counted by AIN yesterday), the static display was smaller than in 2010, when the show attracted some 65 aircraft.
“The GCC region is certainly a growth area and everyone in the industry is waking up to the fact that this is a very important market. There is infinite potential here,” said Al Baker, who is also CEO of Qatar Executive.
“I am a regular visitor [to trade shows],” said Sheikha Lubna. Commenting on the influx of business and tourism into the emirate of Dubai and the UAE in general, she said, “There are lot more visitors this year [at the show, compared with 2010].”
The ministry is at the forefront of the UAE’s efforts to turn Dubai into an east-west trade and logistics bridge. “We promote all kinds of business to increase our global trade position,” said Lubna. “If you look at the GCC in general, this is a growing market economically. There are lots of businesses, and a lot of people, who require the use [of good facilities] in terms of convenience for travelling. This is one area of services that is important to us. A lot of the business around us… is growing.”
DXB is not expected to hit full capacity until 2018, when a major passenger influx is expected at DWC, which today boasts a nameplate capacity of around 7 million passengers a year. The third phase of DWC’s development is likely to be the introduction of a scheduled airline, which officials say could be Dubai low-cost carrier, flydubai, if the move is correctly incentivised.
Emirates is not expected to move its operations to DWC until the mid-2020s. At last month’s Cityscape real estate expo, Al Zaffin told AIN he did not expect a second runway to be constructed at DWC for another five years.