Al Maktoum International Takes Off

Oct. 27--Al Maktoum all set to start its quest to become the world's busiest airport with the launch of commercial passenger operations.

The stage is set for Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC), which is going to start its quest to become the world's busiest airport with the launch of commercial passenger operations today.

Hungary's Wizz Air will kick off services at the new airport, which will be the largest in the world with five runways and a capacity for 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo upon completion by 2020. Initially, the airport will be handling seven million passengers annually.

Al Maktoum International, the UAE's newest gateway, is part of a $132 billion DWC project, which comprises a 140sqkm multi-phase development of six clustered zones that includes Dubai Logistics City, Commercial City, Residential City, Aviation City and Golf City.

Strategically located in the vicinity of the Jebel Ali Port and Free Zone, the development is the region's first integrated, multi-modal transportation platform connecting air, sea and land, and will serve the region as an "international business hub" for decades to come. Once completed, the development will have up to four passenger terminals and five parallel runways, each 4.5 kilometres long.

The airport's first phase includes a single A380-compatible runway and 64 remote aircraft stands and is ready to offer airlines a complete new catchment area. The authorities are working hard to reinvent the airport experience at DWC with the launch of innovative services to cut short the journey time by reducing checks at the airport through state-of-the-art automated systems. Passengers may be able to get their security status predetermined before leaving for the airport by checking in from their home or office.

"DWC is Dubai's airport of the future and a fundamental element of our master plan, which is being designed to accommodate the tremendous passenger growth being projected until 2040 and beyond," Dubai Airports chief executive officer Paul Griffiths said in a recent statement to .

Dubai Airports, which owns and manages the operations of Dubai International and Al Maktoum International, launched general aviation operations at DWC on April 28, 2011. The new 220sqkm airport has been handling cargo flights since June 2010 and has quickly established itself as an emerging cargo airport in the region with 36 airlines. It handled 219,092 tonnes of air freight during its second full calendar year of operations in 2012, reflecting an increase of 144 per cent over 2011.

Following the approval from the General Civil Aviation Authority to begin receiving passengers today, Dubai Airports conducted an extensive operational trial to test the readiness of the passenger terminal building at Al Maktoum International earlier this month.

Dubai Airports has so far confirmed memoranda of understanding with four airlines, three of which have identified operational start dates. As Wizz Air is all set to launch its operations from the new airport today, Kuwait's Jazeera Airways and Bahrain's Gulf Air will start serving the new facility on October 31 and December 8, respectively.

Saudi Arabian low-cost airline nasair currently is the only airline that signed an MoU to serve Al Maktoum International, but is so far unable to identify the suitable time frame to launch its operation from the new facility.

Wizz Air, which provides low-cost air transport across 30 countries with 16 bases across Europe, will provide non-stop services linking DWC to Central and Eastern Europe effective today. The airline has a fleet of 40 Airbus A320 aircraft operating over 1,500 weekly flights to 93 destinations. It is also planning to use Al Maktoum International as a base to further launch its operations to connect India and Pakistan to various destination in Europe.

Jazeera Airways will start serving the new facility with two weekly flights starting October 31. Jazeera Airways serves 19 popular destinations in the Middle East from Kuwait.

"We firmly believe that Al Maktoum International Airport has a strong potential and one day it will become one of the largest airports in the whole region. That's why Jazeera Airways decided to be there first to operate flights to it," Jazeera Airways Group chairman Marwan Boodai told

Gulf Air, which commenced operations in 1950, plans to operate a daily service linking DWC to its home base in Bahrain. The airline already operates 51 flights per week into Dubai International and is quite confident of attracting more leisure and business travellers through Al Maktoum International.

Bahrain's flag carrier is a major international carrier serving 32 cities in 21 countries, spanning three continents. The airline operates one of the largest networks in the Middle East, with double-daily flights to over 10 regional capitals from its hub at Bahrain International Airport. Gulf Air serves all its destinations with a combination wide- and narrow-body fleet totalling 26 modern aircraft.

"We are delighted to be the first full-service carrier operating to Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central. The airport's close proximity to the holiday, residential and business developments of Arabian Ranches, Dubai Marina, Dubai Media City and Palm Jumeirah make it an attractive, alternative and time-saving travel proposition for passengers located in or travelling to these areas," said Maher Salman Al Musallam, acting chief executive officer of Gulf Air.

Emirates airline may begin its service to Al Maktoum International in the mid-2020s, while Emirates SkyCargo's new terminal at the new facility is expected to start operations in April 2014.

According to aviation circles, more international and regional airlines are in discussions with Dubai Airports to start or shift their operations to the new facility in the near future. They say existing airlines operating to and from Dubai International are expected to start using the new facility in mid-2014 when its runway will undergo extensive works next year. The airport is undergoing a big expansion to increase its capacity to 100 million by 2020.

"Al Maktoum will be a more busy facility in 2014 as many airlines may be temporarily shifting their operations to the new airport because of scheduled runway maintenance work at Dubai International," according to an analyst.

Airlines may be forced to reschedule their flight plans during an 80-day period of runway maintenance work starting on May 1. The renovation of two existing runways at Dubai International will hit airlines and they may redirect their flights to Al Maktoum International that will open a new window of opportunity for them.

"With the current airport due to have extensive runway work next year, many airlines will look to see how the opening days and weeks of DWC fairs, so they can gauge whether it's worthwhile temporarily or permanently moving operations there to take advantage of the new capacity at the airport," Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, told

Ahmad said the opening of Al Maktoum International Airport paves the way for a decade or more of intense expansion and development at DWC, allowing extra flights, capacity and flight options for Dubai and its international passengers.

"As a grand vision, airports being built on this scale are few and far between -- and with Dubai World Central already operating an extensive freighter-based service for cargo airlines, the airport opening up to passenger flights will mean an additional gateway for passengers," he said.

Another analyst says Dubai is expected to be handling 260 million passengers annually by 2020 in case authorities decide to sustain operations at both Dubai International and Al Maktoum International in the wake of a successful bid for World Expo 2020.

With a view of handling some 160 million passengers, Ahmad said Al Maktoum International Airport's opening could not have come at a better time for Dubai.

"The airport is also the permanent new home to the Dubai Air Show, which opens in a few weeks too -- this is a great platform for Dubai and the UAE and it's clear that the allure of Dubai and its travel options will only get more robust because of this new infrastructure," he said.

Copyright 2013 - Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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