Fresh delay for Dubai's Maktoum airport

Passenger flights at Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai have been pushed back to the end of the year.

Dubai Airports is juggling the development of Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International, above, which will eventually become the base for Emirates Airline. Gabriela Maj / Bloomberg
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Dubai's newest airport and the future home of Emirates Airline has delayed the opening of its passenger terminal from next month until the end of the year.

Al Maktoum International Airport, in Jebel Ali, began cargo flights last summer but has pushed back the opening of passenger flights "until at least the fourth quarter of 2011," Dubai Airports said yesterday, adding that the final date "remains under review".

Air travel in Dubai boomed last year to 47.2 million travellers, a 15.3 per cent jump from 2009, as Emirates, flydubai and other airlines added frequencies and destinations. As a result, the airports company is juggling the development plans of Dubai International Airport, which will serve the emirate's aviation needs for another 10 to 20 years, and Al Maktoum International, which will eventually become the base for Emirates and serve the more than 100 other airlines flying into Dubai.

"Dubai International Airport is a good problem to have," said Lorne Riley, the head of corporate communications at Dubai Airports. "The growth has been extremely rapid, and we have doubled our size in the last four years."

This growth has made it difficult to build new capacity at Al Maktoum International fast enough to meet demand, he said. "It is a better play to focus our capacity expansion efforts at Dubai International Airport," Mr Riley said.

The first development phase of Al Maktoum International includes one runway, a cargo terminal with a capacity of 250,000 tonnes per year, and a passenger terminal able to handle up to five million passengers a year. Ultimately, the airport is slated to become the one of the largest in the world once it is complete by about 2030, with five runways, four terminal buildings and capacity to handle 160 million passengers each year, plus 12 million tonnes of cargo.

Al Maktoum International is part of a larger master-development called Dubai World Central (DWC).

"DWC is and has always been a long-term solution to the capacity expansion plans for Dubai," Dubai Airports said. "The focus for the next decade will continue to be Dubai International to accommodate the incredible growth we have been experiencing. That includes the construction of Concourse 3 and other facility enhancements designed to boost our capacity from the current 60 million passengers per year to 90 million by 2018."

Concourse 3, which is being built at a cost of Dh4.3 billion (US$1.17bn), will be solely dedicated to Emirates's fleet of A380s, with 18 out of 20 gates designed for the double-decker aircraft. It is due to open next year.

Another concern for the airports company is accommodating the growth in cargo operations. The cargo centre at Dubai International handled 2.27 million tonnes of goods last year, nearing its capacity of 2.5 million tonnes.

Worldwide, the cargo sector is expected to grow at a slow pace this year, and Dubai International is expected to handle 2.3 million tonnes. Already though, the airports operator has marketed the new airport in Jebel Ali as an alternative. Currently 10 cargo airlines fly into Al Maktoum airport and another seven carriers have signed agreements to begin operations soon, Mr Riley said.

"DWC will play an increasing role going forward for cargo in the near term," he said.