Dubai seeks faster travel at new terminal in Al Maktoum Airport with emerging technology

Solutions from AI to electric aircraft will redefine future of travel at new facility

The new passenger terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport is expected to be ready within 10 years. Photo: Dubai Airports
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Cutting-edge aviation technology from AI to electric aircraft will help to reimagine passengers' journeys through Dubai's new $35bn passenger terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport.

A “massive leap” in aviation technology at the new terminal will dismantle the old ways of processing passengers through airports and get rid of choke-points through the hub for faster travel, Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, told The National on Monday.

“Airports have a habit of legacy processes but we're determined to engineer this out. There will be huge investments in automation to make the customer service ethos better and to improve the quality of what we deliver. We've only scratched the service of what AI will deliver in this,” he said.

“Watch this space. The operating model of the airport will be very different from what we have seen.”

A surge in demand for air travel is placing “extraordinary pressure” on existing and new airports, national borders and airline resources, according to an April white paper on biometrics by Sita, an IT provider for the air transport industry.

The existing paper-based and manual travel infrastructure and legacy processes “simply won’t be able to cope”, according to the paper.

The solution is to leverage the power of facial and fingerprint biometrics to create a smoother and safer air travel experience, it said. Advanced technology will also help to solve other aviation industry challenges such as space constraints, specialist staff shortages and evolving passenger wants.

The global demand for travel is rising and biometrics is at the “forefront of this transformation” as the number of air travellers is set to double to eight billion annually by 2040, up from four billion in 2019, according to projections by the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Dubai Airports has already made investments in biometric technology to funnel more people through Dubai International Airport faster, with the aim of increasing its capacity to 120 million passengers annually.

The first phase of the new passenger terminal at Al Maktoum Airport is expected to be ready within 10 years, with the capacity to accommodate 150 million passengers annually.

The new airport terminal, spread across 70 square kilometres, will feature 400 aircraft gates, five parallel runways and new aviation technology.

That technology will focus on “the ability to eliminate legacy processes that we've had to endure for so long,” Mr Griffiths said.

“I can't think of another commodity that makes you book and then you go to the airport and reaffirm that you want that product.”

Future-proofing the new airport

Operator Dubai Airports is now in the detail design phase of the project during which decisions must be made on the hub's final configuration, operations, relationship with ground transport, customer service plan, F&B and retail strategy.

“With the design process, it is imperative that we rethink what the fundamentals of airports are: they are a way of ensuring the smooth and seamless transition from ground to air, that’s the whole rationale of having an airport,” Mr Griffiths said.

“We are taking a long, hard look at that in the design process.”

This also means that internal and external rail networks, road transport, electric aircraft technology, executive jets and budget airlines will be “incredibly important” elements for the efficiency of the new terminal, he said.

Dubai has signed an agreement with US-based electric aircraft maker Joby Aviation to launch passenger air taxi services in the emirate, which Joby expects to start as early as next year.

Built into the new airport terminal design is the flexibility to incorporate technology currently available today and emerging tech that develops over the years.

“Flexibility, imagination and collaboration are what we need to make it work effectively,” Mr Griffiths said.

The new terminal design, despite its ability to accommodate more runway movements, will take into account sustainable operations, the Dubai Airports boss said.

“We are all learning from climate change and there’s an acceptance that you cannot regard heavy rain as a minor event. We need to invest in systems and infrastructure to deal with climate change,” he said.

This will entail major investments in sustainability in terms of solar power, waste treatment, biofuels and a “huge number of initiatives” to combat the impact of climate change, Mr Griffiths said.

Dubai International Airport (DXB), the world's largest hub by international traffic for 10 consecutive years, struggled to clear a backlog of flights after a record-breaking rainstorm in the UAE earlier this month.

DXB resumed normal operations days after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancellations.

Updated: April 30, 2024, 8:07 AM