The new Al Maktoum International Airport opens in Dubai tomorrow and will be the worlds busiest airport
Tomorrow is another big day for Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Sunday the 27th of June 2010. That day will again put Dubai on the map and change things for the better.
Dubai World Central in Jebel Ali is about to open the worlds busiest* Airport – the Al Maktoum International Airport. (*soon to be).
Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International will be growing into a mammoth transit hub of five parallel runways that could trump Atlanta’s airport for the No. 1 spot. Camels are grazing there now, but the planners see up to four airport terminals handling more travelers than the world’s No. 2 and 3 airports — Chicago’s O’ Hare Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport together.
The new Al Maktoum International Airport will have the IATA Airport code JXB.
The Al Maktoum International Airport and the surrounding development of Dubai World Central have a projected price tag of more than $32 billion and are quite a gamble for the city-state Dubai, whose soaring aspirations have been eclipsed by its struggle to pay for them.
Dubai has proved skeptics wrong before, growing its current airport from a lowly wind-swept airstrip into one of the world’s busiest international transit hubs in just a few decades. What is unclear right now is whether the sheikdom Dubai can attract enough business to justify its appetite for a project of this scale.
“The name of this game is to be able to interconnect traffic from a wide range of regions and commercial centers,” said Mike Boyd, an aviation industry consultant. “It’s an open question if Dubai is going to be competitive” with other emerging global air hubs, he added.
The new Dubai airport will grow in stages over the next two decades. It was planned long before the economic meltdown revealed serious problems with Dubai’s finances. The emirate is still trying to solve the problem of more than $100 billion of debt. It has yet to finalize a deal to repay lenders stung by credit problems at its government-owned Dubai World conglomerate. Concerns were also mounting at other state-linked companies.
Much of the debt piled up because of mega-projects that, like the new Al Maktoum Airport, promised to be the biggest or the best — one-of-a-kind feats designed to make Dubai stand out on the global stage and bring in cash. This concept was working very well for a long time.
But as the credit crunch deepened, Dubai’s vast network of state-owned companies suddenly found themselves scrambling to pay their bills, spooking global markets with their debt load and inability to pay. That hasn’t changed the new airport plans, even if Dubai’s debts remain a key concern for bankers and bondholders.
Officials say it remains a vital piece of infrastructure that will ensure the emirate retains its crown as the region’s transportation and logistics hub. Dubai is already home to the region’s busiest sea port and airport.
“There’s no suggestion of scaling back,” Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths mentioned this week. “The world can now sit back and see that Dubai is really taking the lead in this sector.”
Although Dubai’s existing airport is among the world’s busiest, it operates below capacity right now. Griffiths argues the new airport is nonetheless needed because the existing one is being bogged down at peak times. That’s why construction cranes are hard at work building an additional concourse at the existing airport, Dubai International, even as increased attention falls on the new Al Maktoum International, named after Dubai’s ruling family.
“The strategy is to run ahead of time … rather than wait until things become more constrained,” said John Strickland, a consultant who follows the aviation industry. “It’s just good fortune they’re able to do this. Others will be very envious.”
Ultimately, the new Dubai airport is designed to handle up to 160 million passengers and 12 million tons of freight each year. Assuming it can get enough business, it will eventually beat Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest passenger airport at the moment.
Atlanta handled just over 90 million passengers in 2008, according to the most recent annual statistics from the Airports Council International trade group. That’s well over double the 37.4 million passengers that passed through the tax-free shopping corridors of Dubai International that year.
Dubai International is growing fast though. Latest figures show passenger numbers shot up 9 percent to 40.9 million in 2009.
Driving much of the traffic is rapidly growing Emirates airline, a state-owned carrier that has emerged profitable and relatively unscathed from Dubai’s debt crisis.
It shows no signs of slowing down. Just weeks after Emirates unveiled a whopping $11.5 billion order for 32 more Airbus A380 planes, on top of the 58 it had previously requested, it confirmed plans to order more planes at next month’s Farnborough International Airshow. Its recruiters are busy searching for 3,000 new cabin crew and more than 700 pilots as part of the company’s growth plan.
The idea is to eventually shift Emirates’ operations to the new airport sometime next decade. For now, Emirates is staying mostly put at its existing base. This strategy is seen more efficient from analysts.
That leaves the new Al Maktoum International Airport looking elsewhere for customers. Griffiths, the former boss of London’s Gatwick airport, acknowledges it will be years before his new airport really takes off.
Only one runway has been built as of now as part of the $820 million investment made in the new airport so far as estimated from Dubai’s airport company.
The total project, including huge business and residential complexes, will cost over $32 billion.
Initially, Al Maktoum International Airport will only handle cargo flights, like the Emirates airline Boeing 777 freighter that landed on a test flight last Sunday. The first passenger terminal isn’t going to open until March 2011.
Ten airlines have already signed up to operate at the new airport, Griffiths said. But days before the debut, he was unwilling to name one that would be flying there when the doors open tomorrow.
“We’re not expecting it to be a massive runaway success,” he said. “To create such a large facility is going to take some time. … It’s by nature a fairly long-term ambition.”
Knowing Dubai and its ever optimistic rulers we believe that the new Al Maktoum International Airport Dubai will be a success. What do you think?