Beneath the feel-good factor that accompanied the launch of Dubai World Central (DWC) Al Maktoum International Airport to passenger operations this morning lies a pressing conundrum.
With Dubai International Airport’s growth continuing to exceed operations, with 66 million passengers expected to pass through this year, the capacity clock is ticking down faster than originally expected on the established airport – yet DWC is only capable of handling five to seven million passengers in its first phase.
Dubai Airports’ CEO Paul Griffiths said: “The second phase poses a conundrum in how quickly we can build the hub for Emirates in the shortest possible time.”
It’s the first time publically that Emirates’ relocation has been acknowledged in such condensed terms – hitherto the message has been to expect a gradual relocation from 2020 – and reflects not only the airline’s and Dubai International’s growth but also the wider pick-up in the Dubai economy, which is expected to further accelerate in the event of a positive Expo 2020 bid decision at the end of next month.
However no developments were confirmed, nor will they be before Dubai Airports has finalised its masterplan, and no timeframe was given for that process.
Griffiths said today wasn’t only the opening of a new airport but heralded a “whole new vision” for Dubai’s aviation sector, adding that the city remains “singularly focused” on growing international travel. But he reiterated ongoing concerns about freeing up more regional airspace to keep pace with the growth.
While only three carriers are presently lined up for the new airport – Wizz Air, whose first flight from Budapest touched down this morning, Jazeera Airways (starting from Thursday) and Gulf Air (one flight a day from December 8) – Griffiths was confident more cities and services will be announced in the months ahead, likening the slow launch to the start of cargo operations at DWC, which started with one or two airlines and now stands at 36. The passenger terminal building is spacious with 42 check in desks, wide hallways, ample duty free, if not quite the same league as Terminal 3, a Marhaba lounge and plenty of airside seating.
Griffiths played down fears about ‘mega hub’ over-capacity with Istanbul, Doha and Abu Dhabi all in the process of devising large international airports, saying Middle Eastern airports were well placed to attract global traffic and compensated the lack of new airport capacity in more mature markets.
Speculation persists that flydubai will relocate to DWC, despite its ongoing development at Terminal 2. “We would like to get flydubai and another airline that wants to operate here,” said Griffiths.