Strategy Revised in Transition to Dubai World's Airport

 - March 26, 2012, 3:35 PM
Dubai International Airport Terminal 2, home to Flydubai's fleet of Boeing 737-800s, is undergoing expansion. (Photo: Dubai Airports)

Annual passenger demand at Dubai International Airport is set to hit 88.4 million by 2018, triggering the start of major airline operations at the new Al Maktoum International Airport, centerpiece of the multi-phase Dubai World Central (DWC) development at Jebel Ali, 25 miles south of Dubai city center.

But it appears that the near-term expansion of DWC has been scaled back dramatically, while Dubai International Airport continues to grow. Flagship carrier Emirates Airline has already said it will delay by several years its planned relocation to Al Maktoum from Dubai International.

An official Dubai Airports document, “Connecting the World Today and Tomorrow: Strategic Plan 2020,” sets out the plan. “Although Dubai World Central is the long-term solution to Dubai’s aviation needs, adequate capacity to house Emirates’ considerable operation is not expected to be in place until at least the mid-point of the next decade,” the SP2020 document states. “Accordingly, and until such time that DWC is adequately developed, Dubai International must expand to accommodate fleet expansion and traffic growth and retain the network efficiency established by its main hub carriers.”

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation, announced last November that DWC would host the 2013 Dubai Air Show, suggesting an acceleration in the shift toward the new facility. But, in fact, Sheikh Ahmed’s hand was forced by the requirement to demolish the existing airshow venue, known as Dubai Expo, to make room for parking included in the Dubai International expansion plan.

Sources also say that Sheikh Ahmed’s plan to transfer low-fare carrier Flydubai’s operations to DWC in the near future appears unlikely given the connectivity that would be lost between Emirates and Flydubai. Emirates’ global routes feed Flydubai’s regional network and vice versa. The expansion in 2013 of Dubai International’s Terminal 2, home to Flydubai’s Boeing 737-800 fleet, also points to delays in any move to DWC by that airline.

Emirates Airline president Tim Clark announced a “rethink” of the Dubai airports strategy in March 2010, signaling a shift in the airline’s focus to Dubai International. Effectively, Dubai International’s continued expansion means the transfer of Emirates’ base of operations to Al Maktoum International, originally planned to begin in 2018, will be delayed by up to a decade.

Work on Dubai International Concourse 3 should be completed by year-end, boosting the airport’s capacity to 75 million passengers. Work on Concourse 4 is expected to begin in 2015, increasing the figure to 90 million passengers by 2018. “During 2018 to 2023, with construction completed at Dubai International, construction of Phase 2 of DWC will escalate with the initial iteration allowing for 80 million passengers per year to facilitate the eventual relocation of the Emirates [Airline] hub,” Dubai Airports said last July.