A patch of empty desert being flattened by bulldozers outside this fast-sprawling city could eventually become one of the world's largest airports, officials here say.
Or, if you believe the Dubai government's splashy multimedia presentation, the coming airport and surrounding developments will be "the center of the modern world."
Taxiways and one 2.8 mile runway have already been laid out on the sand, and plans call for five more runways, along with six concourses and two passenger terminals, Michael Proffitt, the airport's logistics chief, said on Monday.
Dubai is in the midst of a searing economic boom triggered by investors plowing energy revenues into real estate and other investments in the Gulf's most socially liberal state. Tourists, immigrants and business travelers have overwhelmed Dubai's current airport, which is being expanded but is expected to be outstripped again by the city's growing needs.
The new airport, already given the ambitious name of Dubai World Central and the airport code JXB, is one element of the Dubai government's plans to invest up to $33 billion in building a second passenger and cargo hub that will divert some of the traffic from overburdened Dubai International Airport.
Dubai World Central's first runway and freight terminal is scheduled to open to cargo flights by the end of 2007, Proffitt said. Passenger flights won't start until 2008, and will initially be restricted to budget airlines and charters, Proffitt said.
Passenger traffic at Dubai International, on the opposite end of the emirate, jumped 14 percent last year to 24 million passengers, and authorities expect it to handle 28 million this year.
A new $4.1 billion terminal is expected to relieve immediate pressure at Dubai International when it opens next year, but the airport cannot easily expand further because it is hemmed in by Dubai's neighborhoods.
"It's going to be maxed out in the near future," Proffitt said.
Over the next six years, the emirate, which describes itself as the world's fastest growing city, will phase in the second airport to cater to as many as 70 million yearly passengers, with 50 million tourists among them.
Proffitt said regular expansions of Dubai World Central would provide enough airport capacity until around 2050, when it could handle more than 120 million yearly passengers and 13 million tons of cargo - roughly the combined 2005 load of Chicago's O'Hare and London's Heathrow airports.
"This is being developed to ensure that Dubai has no constraints on passenger or cargo growth," Proffitt said. "We need to forecast our requirements and have the buildings in place."
Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on infrastructure and building developments in Dubai, which, officials here say, harbors 16 percent of the world's construction cranes.
Dubai World Central is being laid out adjacent to the Jebel Ali free trade zone and seaport - the only regional port big enough to host U.S. Navy aircraft carriers - on the emirate's southwestern edge.
Besides the airport, the 54 square-mile development will include a cargo and warehouse park, offices, homes and a golf course. It will generate its own power and desalinated water, Proffitt said.
Proffitt heads the development's warehousing and freight business, dubbed Dubai Logistics City, which he envisions as a hub for European, Arab and Asian manufacturers to store and assemble finished goods that could be shipped via air or sea whenever orders are received.
More than 60 firms have already reserved warehouse space in the development, including German shipping and logistics company Kuehne & Nagel AG, Proffitt said.
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