Dubai Airport follows its rapid growth agenda

 - December 7, 2006, 8:39 AM

For an airport, an annual throughput of 25 million passengers is enough to win respect, especially when it is the result of well-above-average, double-digit growth each year. Yet, in thriving Dubai, it seems that today’s figures are only young green shoots from which tomorrow’s branches will grow.

It is this sort of thinking that is driving Dubai International Airport (DXB) to build an additional terminal and concourses that will give it an annual 70-million passenger capacity. At the same time, work has begun on an entirely new airport in the Jebel Ali free zone, with the goal of an ultimate capacity of 140 million passengers per year. The hard-sand runways of the 1960s are now history and the first terminal built is now only a small part of today’s DXB–the departure hall of Terminal 1 (also known as the Sheikh Rashid Terminal).

“Fueling our growth is a combination of factors: the country’s open-skies policy, Emirates’ [Airline] growth and Dubai increasingly being both a tourism destination and a business hub,” Anita Mehra, the airport’s director of marketing, told Aviation Internationa News. As of early September, 107 airlines were using the airport, connecting passengers to 160 destinations. Emirates has a prominent role, carrying 60 percent of the passengers.

As a trading place, the region from which Dubai attracts people extends far beyond the Gulf, to Iran and CIS countries–an area comprising 1.4 billion inhabitants, Mehra added. Some tourists come to Dubai as their final destination, while others make a three-day stop en-route to other regions. In fact, today only 8 percent of the passengers are transiting–without a real stopover–compared with 50 percent in the early 1990s, according to Mehra. In 2004, all this resulted in an annual throughput of 21.7 million passengers, a number expected to rise to 25 million by the end of this year.

Terminal 3 and its two concourses–Concourse 2 and Concourse 3 (each with 27 gates)–are currently under construction. The terminals are dedicated to functions such as ticketing, check-in, baggage claim, and so forth. The concourses include the boarding areas, lounges, air bridges, duty-free shops and the like. Terminal 3 and Concourse 2 are pegged for entry into service early in 2007, with Concourse 3 following one year later. All are dedicated to Emirates Airline.

Dubai is certainly the airport that wants to be the most Airbus A380-friendly. Eventually, DXB will have the capacity to simultaneously handle 26 of the Airbus behemoths. Concourses 2 and 3 will have five and 18 gates, respectively, to accommodate the A380. Three additional gates will be retrofitted at the Sheikh Rashid Terminal in 2007 to handle A380 passengers. Each gate will have two-level boarding areas with accompanying loading bridges to allow passengers to board or disembark from both decks at the same time.

“For the architects, the main ideas are to retain the current aesthetics [an aircraft fuselage profile] with elements of Arabesque and a lot of light entering through large surfaces of glass,” Mehra told AIN. French airport group Aéroports de Paris (ADP) is building the new terminal. Regional company Dar Al Handesa is building the concourses. Construction is funded by Dubai’s Department of Civil Aviation and through an Islamic loan mechanism called Sukuk.

Terminal 3 will have 180 check-in counters and will be approximately 1,600 feet long and 1,000 feet wide. It will be linked to Concourse 2 via inclined moving carpets (travelators), enabling more fluidity than available with escalators. An original kind of people-mover will be available in the form of a 150-person elevator. It will have the shape of a train but will move vertically–a world’s-first, Mehra claimed. Concourse 3 will be linked to Concourse 2 and Terminal 3 via a conventional (horizontal) train. “We want to avoid people having to walk, especially the disabled and parents with children,” Mehra stressed.

The Other Airport

However, even after all these buildings are completed, the 70-million passenger capacity of the airport will not provide much margin–at Dubai’s usual growth rates–above the planned traffic of 60 million passengers in 2010. And this is where the Jebel Ali project comes in.

In the free trade zone, where taxation is nonexistent and foreigners can have full ownership of the buildings they buy (without sharing it with a local partner), the new airport should be operational late in 2007. At first it will be relatively small, with only one runway and a cargo facility–a $550-million project. Eventually, it will have six runways for an annual capacity of 140 million passengers.

The current phase of expansion at Dubai International Airport is costing $4.1 billion. It includes construction of Terminal 3, Concourse 2 and Concourse 3, the Cargo Mega Terminal (eventually to have a capacity of five million tons of freight) and the expansion of Terminal 2, in addition to the extension of a runway.

At present, the two existing parallel runways are too close together to allow simultaneous landings, Mehra explained. Having them staggered will solve the problem, giving the airport more capacity at peak hours. In 2004, aircraft movements totaled 195,620 and had reached 144,777 in the January-August period in 2005. Third quarter passenger traffic figures show 18.8 million compared with 16.3 million in the same quarter a year ago.