Exclusive: Dubai South eyeing expansion of aviation district with future ‘Phase Two’

Tahnoon Saif says current site insufficient to cater to planned growth of aircraft maintenance, manufacturing operations

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , NOV 8   – 2017 :- Tahnoon Saif , Vice President of Aviation at Dubai South during the interview at his office in Dubai South headquarter building in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) Story by Sarah Townsend
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Dubai South, which includes Al Maktoum International Airport, seeks to expand its aviation district and draw up a masterplan for a second phase catering to growth in aircraft manufacturing and maintenance operations, a zone official said.

“We thought seven square kilometers would be ideal, but we can tell now for the future we need more land for this," Tahnoon Saif, vice-president of aviation at Dubai South said in an interview with The National. "There may be a Phase Two of the Aviation District. But it depends on land availability.”

Plans to physically expand the aviation district would be implemented over the next 5-10 years, depending on land availability. While officials are understood to have held talks with landowners in recent years, Mr Saif said such talks would not be resurrected until Dubai South has a considered Phase Two masterplan to present and discuss.

"For sure there'll be an expansion, but we're not sure of the exact time-frame," he said. The land required would depend on demand, he said. At this week's air show Dubai South will announce additional initiatives to attract players in the aircraft maintenance and servicing industries.

Dubai South Aviation District is already home to private jet operators Jetex, Execujet, DC Aviation Al Futtaim and Falcon, who either have or are building aircraft hangars on site, and companies involved in aviation supply chain activities, including GE, Lufthansa Teknik and AAI. The zone sits within the 145 sq km Dubai South 'aerotropolis', which will also house a Dh25 billion residential zone, a free zone business park, logistics and cargo district and the exhibition site being built to host Expo 2020 Dubai.

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Among other aviation-related activities, it is hoped a future expansion of the aviation district would support growth in aircraft manufacturing operations. In 2015, Dubai South unveiled its ‘original equipment manufacturer’ (OEM) initiative to attract plane makers to manufacturer aircraft parts on site, bringing them closer to their major customers in the region, including Emirates and Etihad Airways.

OEM is scheduled to start implementation between 2020 and 2025, but Mr Saif said some elements would commence earlier. For example, an agreement was signed with Advanced Aerospace last year under which the manufacturer of composite structures will start operations at Dubai South from 2018. It is currently fitting out its facility.

“Manufacturing is a key area of focus for us,” Mr Saif said. “We are working with Dubai Industrial Strategy to draw up a plan for the manufacturing of aircraft units and parts at the district. The ultimate plan is to have a proper set-up for manufacturing.”

Dubai South Aviation District has a budget of Dh2.5bn to the end of 2018, which includes Dh1.1bn committed from Dubai government and Dh1.4bn from clients, according to Mr Saif. There are no plans to go out to market for debt financing.

Mr Saif predicts significant growth of Al Maktoum airport as Dubai International Airport (DXB) becomes increasingly saturated. He says he is awaiting the planned transfer of Emirates and Flydubai to the new airport. “I don’t know about their specific strategies, but I know for sure that DXB cannot handle beyond a certain number of passengers, which it won’t take long to reach.” Dubai South Aviation District is in talks with other global carriers to encourage them to set up at Al Maktoum, he added.

Al Maktoum will remain the hub for VIP passengers, he added, for whom desirable arrival and departure times could not be offered at DXB. Al Maktoum will also seek to capitalise on rapid growth in cargo volumes, due to the airport’s strategic position between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“We are creating value here, and can further cement Dubai’s status as a Middle East aviation hub.”