Dubai’s New Al Maktoum International Airport


Never mind that Dubai International Airport, with its 57 million annual passengers, is nowhere near capacity. That won’t happen until 90 million passengers land in 2020. But good ideas apparently come in twos. Last Sunday, the first commercial flight, a Hungarian low-cost Wizz Air, landed at Dubai’s new Al Maktoum International Airport.

The airport code, DWC, stands for Dubai World Central. Give them 10 years and they say DWC will be World Central, the largest airport in the world.

Aviation is big business in Dubai. It brings in $22 billion a year, representing 28% of Dubai’s gross domestic product. Much of that comes from Dubai International Airport, the fourth busiest airport in the world. Landing fees in Dubai are among the lowest in the world.

The new airport, which will cost $32 billion before it’s completed, will have five runways capable of handling 160 million passengers a year. It’s been open since 2010 to cargo flights.

By contrast, the world’s busiest airport today, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, handled 95 million passengers in 2012.

Dubai wants to play centerfield, a connection point between east and west. More than 60% of arriving passengers remain in transit. DWC’s ambition is to be a mega-aerotropolis.

“Dubai’s pivotal location on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula makes it a gateway from Europe to the east,” Josef Varadi, CEO of Hungarian Wizz Air, said at the traditional water salute when inaugural Wizz Air landed at Dubai’s new airport.

But DWC has a long way to go. As yet, there are few connection flights for transfer passengers. Construction of the airport’s mega terminal is behind schedule and the airport, which is located in Jebel Ali (a free economic zone 30 miles north of Dubai International), lacks mass transit. Emirates, the Middle East’s biggest airline (based out of Dubai International Airport), isn’t expected to call DWC home until 2025.

There are no plans to close Dubai International Airport, which, like Al Maktoum International, is owned by the government of Dubai and operated by Dubai Airports Company.

Kuwait-based low-cost carrier Jazeera Airways and Bahrain’s full-service Gulf Air also made inaugural flights to DWC on Sunday. Gulf News has reported that more airlines are close to signing deals to use the new airport.

The Tarmac’s View:  I’m repeating a quote I’ve used before from John Kasarda, a professor in the business school at the University of North Carolina: Airports shape business location and urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th and seaports in the 18th.


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