Dubai eyes 120-million passenger capacity at 2nd airport

DUBAI - Dubai has relaunched an ambitious project to develop its second airport, touted originally as the world's largest, to handle 120 million passengers a year, its airports chief said Monday.

The plan aims to expand Al-Maktoum International airport within eight years to shift the growing operations of Emirates Airlines from Dubai International, Paul Griffiths told AFP.

"We have now launched the first phase, which is for a 120-million-passenger capacity required to enable the Emirates' hub to relocate," to Al-Maktoum International in Dubai World Central economic zone, he said.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum has approved the US$32-billion (S$40-billion) expansion project, with a timeframe of six to eight years to complete it.

This shows that the "strategic decision that was made some time ago of Dubai World Central being the airport for the future has been reaffirmed," the Dubai Airports chief said.

Al-Maktoum International airport was launched before the global financial crisis hit Dubai in 2009, with plans to build the world's largest airport, featuring a 160-million-passenger capacity and six runways.

The ambitious plan appeared to have been put on the back burner due to the crisis, and the airport instead opened operations for cargo only in 2010, while small passenger operations began in October 2013 after repeated delays.

The final plan features five runways each stretching 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles), spaced wide apart in order to allow for simultaneous use.

The airport could ultimately expand to accommodate 200 million passengers annually.

The first phase includes two satellite buildings which could serve as many as 100 A380 superjumbo aircraft at any one time, Dubai Airports said.

"Work has got to start very quickly," Griffiths said, pointing out that a date for commencement is yet to be set.

Dubai International handled more than 66.4 million passengers in 2013, and is expected to host more than 100 million passengers by 2020, as it continues to build capacity.

Two-airport city

Ranked among the world's busiest airports for international travellers, Dubai International has established itself as a major stop on routes between the West and Asia and Australasia.

Al-Maktoum airport is built next to Dubai Jebel Ali Free Zone and its port, which is one of the world's largest man-made harbours, and a major containers terminal.

It is located some 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from Dubai International.

The emirate has no plans to close Dubai International and intends to be a two-airport city for the time being, Griffiths reiterated, though he pointed to limited airspace capacity.

"One of the big challenges is the airspace capacity," he said. "We might find that operating two airports gives us less capacity overall than operating one large airport." "We don't have to make that decision at this point," he added.