Undeterred by regional uncertainty, Dubai International Airport has embarked on a US$2.5 billion expansion project that will totally reshape the airport and its ground operations. Richard Rowe reports from Dubai
Nothing it seems can stop Dubai's relentless quest to become one of the world's most extravagant, and popular, business and leisure destinations - and certainly not the prospect of another skirmish 1,000 miles away in Iraq.
Once just a dusty trading port on the Arabian Gulf, the discovery of oil in the late 1960s propelled Dubai along the first steps of a remarkable journey. Now, as those same oil reserves show signs of dwindling, Dubai has reason to thank the ruling Al Maktoum family for its vision; rather than sitting pretty on oil receipts, Dubai's rulers made it their personal mission to develop the emirate into such a cosmopolitan hub of business, tourism and sporting excellence that no one would miss the black stuff when it finally ran out.
Today, Dubai continues to use its financial and entrepreneurial muscle to attract visitors and workers from the four corners of the world. Few places could have so skillfully combined the aggressive trading instincts of Hong Kong with the sheer audacity of Las Vegas to create such a relentlessly cheery and undoubtedly world-class haven for business and leisure travellers alike.
The statistics are telling: annual GDP growth sits at a remarkable 13.2 percent, while tourism now accounts for 40 percent of Dubai's economy. This, of course, is good news for the airport. Easily the fastest growing in the Middle East, Dubai International Airport has nonetheless surprised its own Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) with its success over the last 12 months.
The DCA had predicted a total of 15 million passengers for 2002, but hit 16 million instead - a growth of 18 percent on 2001. In addition, Dubai was one of the few airports in the world to enjoy positive figures during the dull days of 2001 - the airport may have failed to hit initial targets, but still posted passenger growth of 9.5 percent over 2000.
It has been the same story for air cargo, with a jump of 24 percent in 2002, up from a little over 630,000 tonnes in 2001 to nearly 785,00 tonnes in 2002.
Much of this growth can be attributed to the multi award-winning Emirates Airlines. The national carrier accounts for around 45 percent of all passengers at the airport and continues to expand its fleet and route network year on year.
The airline, which was founded in 1985, plans to add an additional 60 aircraft to its fleet between now and 2010. This includes the incremental purchase of up to 20 Airbus A380s when the giant aircraft comes on stream in 2006, as well as two A380 freighters.
Emirates is joined at Dubai International Airport by another 100 scheduled airlines, plus a smorgasbord of 70 or so charters and ad hoc carriers, many hailing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Cautious planning has never been Dubai's style; Build it and they will come has long been the motto in this part of the world. And in this respect, the DCA has set itself perhaps the most ambitious challenge yet: just two years after opening the US$500 million Sheikh Rashid Terminal, plans have been unveiled for the second phase of the airport's expansion at an estimated cost of 9 billion Dirhams (US$2.5 billion).
Other countries require lengthy public inquiries before new infrastructure is given the green light, but not Dubai. If the powers that be, such as HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, DCA President and Chairman of the Emirates Group, decide that a project should go ahead, then that is exactly what happens.
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