As a major infrastructure project in the emirate of Dubai, the build-out of Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC - aka Dubai South) is an enterprise of national significance over which the authorities are content to play a long game. This makes sense given the economic headwinds buffeting the UAE economy today and postponement last year of Emirates’ move to DWC by five years to 2030.
With fewer than 10 commercial flights a day either arriving or departing in September and October at DWC, according to checks carried out by AIN, the rationale for the expansion of the airport’s Passenger Terminal Building to a capacity of 26 million passengers a year appears yet to be justified.
In contrast, the centrality of operations at Dubai International (DXB) continues, with the transfer of a number of Flydubai flights to the dedicated Emirates Terminal 3, and Dubai Airports attempting to speed up aircraft turnaround dramatically, according to CEO, Paul Griffiths.
However, DXB saw only 41.3 million passengers in the first half of 2019, compared to a full-year figure of 89.1 million in 2018. The closure of one of DXB’s two runways for refurbishment in April and May contributed to a decline in traffic of 5.6 percent year-on-year. DXB cargo throughput, at just over 1 million tonnes, was down 18.3 percent.
Although a total of 22,128 flights took off or landed at DWC during the first half of 2019, an increase of 38 percent, this was largely due to the DXB runway work. DWC cargo fell to 450,000 tonnes, according to Dubai Airports, a 5.3 percent year-on-year decline.
Focus on Bizav
In light of slow scheduled growth, Dubai South continues to concentrate on other aspects of the aviation value chain, particularly business aviation. “The year started well,” Tahnoon Saif, CEO of Mohammed bin Rashid Aerospace Hub, told AIN. “H.H. Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum officially inaugurated Dubai South's Aviation District. It is now called Mohammed bin Rashid Aerospace Hub (MBRAH).”
MBRAH offers global aerospace players high-level connectivity and is a free-zone destination for the world’s leading airlines, private-jet companies, and associated industries. Located in and developed by Dubai South, MBRAH is also home to a VIP FBO terminal, a maintenance center, and a training and education campus. It seeks to strengthen engineering industries at DWC, to foster the emirate's vision of becoming a leading aviation hub.
“In terms of business, we are focusing more on business aviation than commercial,” Saif said. “Commercial aviation is [the responsibility of] Dubai Airports, as operator. They are having work done on both airports, at DWC and DXB.” DWC officials told AIN that the cessation of Phase 2 expansion at DWC had allowed manpower to be transferred to the task of preparing DWC for the six-month Dubai World Expo, which launches on site in September 2020.
Although AIN understands bizav flights across Dubai fell 9 percent in 2018, to just under 12,300 movements, the figures rose 26 percent year-on-year in the first half of this year. “On business aviation, the year started very well,” Saif said. “Around 72 percent of movements took place at DWC. [Those using DXB] are mainly operators tied to the maintenance centers there, [operated by Jet Aviation and ExecuJet].”
Of the around 7,950 flights through Dubai in the first half, some 5,750 went through DWC, while only 2,200 used DXB, giving DWC 72 percent market share, compared to only 59 percent in the comparable period in 2018. “We had growth of more than 20 percent in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period last year. We refer to the operations handled by FBOs, rather than general aviation, or unscheduled flights handled by the airports, training, etc.,” he said.
MRO is key to MBRAH’s success. Launch of Abu Dhabi-based Falcon Aviation’s business jet MRO facility at DWC should boost its appeal. “Falcon Aviation [went] live with their DWC MRO in late 2019,” he said. “We are happy to see a widebody MRO go into operation.”
He said no cutoff date would be imposed on bizav flights going into DXB, especially given the MRO facilities there. “An investment was made by operators there, so it's wise to do business when slots are available. Our focus is to create value for FBO operators at DWC, to attract movements.
“Different operators have different plans. Some FBOs are pure FBOs. But others have MRO models too. Jet Aviation and ExecuJet have dual operations, here and at DXB. This is something we take into consideration: the investment they made there. [For them to move all operations to DWC] is not something we want to happen overnight. They made significant investments in MRO."
Saif looks forward to eventual consolidation of operations into DWC. “We don't know when full consolidation will take place here, but we are looking forward to having the whole business aviation ecosystem here. Currently, five FBOs are operating from DWC, and we don’t have intentions to attract or introduce more.”
Luxaviation Group unit ExecuJet is expected to begin work on a combined MRO and FBO at DWC soon. “We are working with ExecuJet Middle East,” Saif said. “They took three Code-C plots to build hangars for their MRO center [as well as an FBO facility, at DWC]. The deal was concluded at the end of last year. We are looking forward to them breaking ground.”
Saif expects DWC to benefit from Expo 2020. “This will [involve] direct business aviation, attracting high-profile official delegations from different parts of the world. We are working with the authorities, the police, customs, and immigration, to create an exceptional experience for high-profile VIP delegations.”