Dubai opens new airport, set to become world's largest

Brisbane Times, 28 June 2010

Debt-laden Dubai opened its second airport yesterday, three weeks after its flagship carrier Emirates placed a major order for Airbus 380 superjumbos, enforcing its status as an air transport hub.

The first plane landed on the sole runway of the Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International Airport -- named after the emirate's ruling family, Dubai Airports said in a statement.

Three air freight companies have begun operations from the new airport with 12 others due to follow, it said.

The first phase be confined to freight traffic, with a capacity to handle 250,000 tonnes annually while passenger traffic was scheduled to begin in March 2011, with an annual capacity of five million passengers.

"We have achieved another important step towards completing" the airport, said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, the head of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.

Situated on the desert outskirts of Dubai and close to the Jebel Ali port and its large free zone, DWC-Al Maktoum International is touted to become the world's largest airport when completed at an undisclosed date.

But authorities said that when it is all up and running the new airport will be able to handle 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo, and have five runways.

Dubai, a city of around two million people, already boasts the biggest airport in the Middle East, which handled 42 million passengers in 2009 -- a figure expected to surge to 100 million by 2020, said Jamal al-Hai, Dubai Airports Senior Vice President for Strategic Affairs.

"Our development follows a strategy aimed at turning Dubai into the centre of the new silk route," linking east to west, he said.

Thanks to the strategic location and developed infrastructure of Dubai, which has established itself as a popular tourist destination and a regional business hub, air transport accounts for over 25 per cent of the emirate's gross domestic product, Hai said.

He said that the capacity of the current Dubai airport stands at 65 million passengers, and should increase to 75 million in 2012 with the completion of the third concourse that will be exclusively used by the A380 superjumbos.

Emirates, the largest Middle East carrier, had earlier this month reinforced its status as the largest single customer of the Airbus A380, by placing a new order for 32 units worth $US11.5 billion ($A13.1. billion)

The order made in Berlin brought Emirates' total orders of the superjumbo jet to 90 units, 10 of which are already in service.

"Emirates will be announcing new aircraft orders at the Farnborough Airshow" in England, which opens on July 19, an Emirates spokesman said.

The company is also the largest single operator of the Boeing 777 with 85 units in service and 21 on order.

The once bustling city state of Dubai was badly hit by the global financial crisis that forced Dubai World, the biggest state-owned conglomerate, to seek restructuring of $US23.5 billion of debt.

But Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum justified this week Emirates' new order by the "growth" in Dubai's airport infrastructure, the number of passengers and tourists visiting the emirate.

"The worst is over and Dubai is looking for new opportunities for growth," he said in an interview with CNN.

Emirates announced in May a whopping 416-per cent surge in annual net profit which reached $US964 million in the past financial year, bucking the global trend in the airline industry.