Desert Giant

The first aircraft to arrive at DWC was this Emirate SkyCargo Boeing 777F on June 20. It was undertaking a series of tests in relation to the airport’s equipment and infrastructure.

Luigi Vallero ventures to Dubai World Central and Al Maktoum International Airport to discover a vast facility that is paving the way for Dubai’s air supremacy ambitions.

The first aircraft to arrive at DWC was this Emirate SkyCargo Boeing 777F on June 20. It was undertaking a series of tests in relation to the airport’s equipment and infrastructure.

So far just one of the planned five runways has been finished.

Dubai’s economy was enjoying rampant growth until the effects of the global financial crisis started to take their toll towards the end of the last decade.  The construction boom, fuelled by investors hoping to make a quick killing, suddenly collapsed as the flow of would-be buyers dried up.  However, the emirate’s economy is proving to be resilient thanks to some recent recovery in the trade and tourism sectors – further to that are hopes that more multi-billion dollar projects will serve to propel Dubai to even greater success.
The vast space available at DWC means that it can handle literally dozens of the largest cargo aircraft at any one time.

Possibly the world’s largest and most ambitious construction project currently underway is Dubai World Central (DWC), which groups under the same umbrella several developments that are being built in a desert area twice the size of Hong Kong Island, close to the port of Jebel Ali.  Even so, Dubai World had to seek approval from creditors to restructure nearly $25 billion of debt, and in October 2010 managed to do so after ten months of negotiations.  The port of Jebel Ali is already the sixth largest container terminal in the world and is situated one third of the way between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  DWC is envisioned as a luxurious residential, commercial and logistics complex, and is regarded as the world’s first truly integrated multimodal logistics hub.  It will also bring together value added services, including manufacturing and assembly, in a single bonded and free trade zone environment.  The Dubai World Central ‘Aerotropolis’ mega-project encompasses the development of eight distinct sub-schemes spread over an area of 54 square miles (140km2).  These are the DWC Residential City, Logistics City, Enterprise Park, Commercial City, Staff Village, Golf City, Aviation City and International Airport.  The airport itself will be surrounded by a large logistics hub, an ultra-luxurious golf resort and residential area, an expansive trade and exhibition facility and a massive commercial district.  There will also be an MRO facility, a Heliport Zone with 17 landing pads and several sub-districts including an Educational and Academic zone and centre for aircraft component and parts supply.
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports and other dignitaries cut the ribbon at the opening of DWC on June 27, 2010.

The emirate already has its own world class airport hub in the shape of Dubai International Airport (DXB).  It is ranked as the sixth busiest in the world in terms of international passengers and fourth for freight, providing capacity for 60mppa which is expected to increase to 75mppa with the opening of the Emirates Airbus A380-dedicated Concourse 3.  But the city-state has even greater ambitions and is already planning for a massive aviation hub, that once completed will be the largest airport in the world.
DXB, which currently covers an area of 15,548,697sq ft (1,444,474m2), continues to grow to cope with anticipated traffic increases and planned Emirates Airline fleet expansion, but its closeness to the city means that future developments beyond Concourse 3, will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.  Furthermore in terms of runways, DXB is unable to add more to its current two.  Therefore the only way to affirm Dubai’s ambitions to be the number one air hub for transiting travellers from Asia-Pacific, South Asia and Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, is to provide more infrastructure within the next decade.  Dubai realised that it would be necessary to construct a new mega-hub, and Dubai Airports, the company that owns and manages DXB, was given a mandate to build the new DWC – Al Maktoum International, some 25 miles (40km) away to the west.
Rising from the sands
Launched in late 2005, the first phase of the airport’s development was officially opened on June 27, 2010.  The first carriers to use the new Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport (named after the late Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the former ruler of Dubai) were cargo operators Rus Aviation, Skyline and Aerospace Consortium.  Fifteen more cargo airlines have now signed contracts to use the airport.
A single Ilyushin Il-76 looks lost on the apron in the vastness of the airport and the surrounding DWC complex. (All photos by or via author)

The first test flight into the airport occurred at 16:50 local time on June 20, 2010, when an Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777F (flight EK9883) arrived from Hong Kong.  This helped to verify various functions such as air traffic control, movement of aircraft on the ground and security.  According to Emirates it was an: “unmitigated success”.  Passenger flights are expected to begin towards the end of 2011, and upon completion of its final development phase DWC will eventually have five parallel (reduced from six in the original plan in April 2009) 14,764ft (4,500m) runways (each separated by 2,625ft [800m]).  This will make it the world’s largest airport in terms of capacity with potential to handle up to 160mppa through four terminals, along with 12 million tonnes of cargo per year.  Designed for the future, DWC will be able to take all next-generation aircraft and will have the unprecedented worldwide capability of enabling four aircraft to land simultaneously, 24 hours a day.
Speaking at the opening of DWC, HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Dubai Airports remarked: “Phase 1 is the first step in a long infrastructure development project that over time will see our new airport transformed into the world’s largest global gateway and a multi-modal logistics hub that plays an increasingly integral role in the ongoing economic and social development of Dubai.  It is a proud day for Dubai and an auspicious occasion for the future of global aviation.”
The sheer size of the airfield determines that two fire stations are required.

Phase 1 includes a single CAT III-C runway (which was completed in 600 days on November 4, 2007), a 302ft (92m) ATC tower, 64 remote stands, a passenger terminal and the Al Maktoum Airport Cargo Gateway terminal.  The latter cost around $75 million and has an annual capacity for 250,000 tonnes of cargo, with the possibility of increasing this to 800,000.  The passenger facility is designed to accommodate up to 5mppa and is due for completion during the second half of 2011.  It will provide the same levels of quality and facilities as DXB’s existing Terminal 3.
As explained by Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports: “Although it is a long-term project, the need for a second airport in the near to mid-term is clear.  Dubai International currently has capacity for 2.5 million tonnes of cargo [annually] while volumes are expected to increase by 48% to 3 million tonnes by 2015.  On the passenger side we expect to see numbers skyrocket from the 41 million that passed through in 2009 to 98 million by 2020 and 150 million by 2030.”
The new airport’s facilities are not constrained by any physical obstacles.  There is air-sea-land connectivity with the Jebel Ali Port and Jebel Ali Free Zone via a bonded road.  This doesn’t really present any obstacle to future development and is already being acknowledged as a great success by the first cargo carriers and providers that are using it.  These include Aban Air, ACI, Aerospace Consortium, Aviation Service Management, Coyne Airways, EuroAsian Services, Ramjet, Reem Style, Rial Aviation, Rus Aviation, Sonic Jet, SunGlobal, Skyline and United Aviation Services.  The first passenger airlines to use DWC are expected to be from the low-cost and charter sectors.
the opening day several aircraft received the traditional welcome from the airport fire service.

Current plans aim to make DWC the world’s largest airport in terms of cargo by 2013, when it is hoped it will be dealing with 12 million tonnes a year.  At the moment that title is held by Memphis International in the USA which handles 3.7 million tonnes annually.  Originally it was intended that the project would be fully completed by 2017 but the economic slowdown has postponed that to 2022 at the earliest.  According to Dubai Airports the two hubs will probably grow in harmony until it has been decided if DXB will be closed and all the flights transferred to DWC, or whether both hubs will be kept operational to meet specific roles.
Currently Al Maktoum International is only served by a road network but it is intended to link it to the Dubai Metro and build a dedicated DWC light railway, while plans also envisage a high-speed rail system connecting it with DXB and the city.  The airport will have an automated people mover connecting all the terminals.
Inside one of the cargo warehouses at DWC. Eventually 16 will be available with an annual capacity of 12 million tonnes.

When the author paid a visit in December 2010 work was progressing well on the airport.  DWC still has a long way to go before it can fulfil its true potential, but things happen very quickly in this small but powerful emirate.  What can take years to materialise elsewhere is often completed in a matter of months here.  There can be no doubt that Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum would have been proud of what his country has managed to achieve in just 50 years.
The first passenger terminal is structurally complete and is now being fitted out.

The author wishes to express thanks to Ali Zaigham, Press Relations & Communications Manager, and Amal Ibrahim Bufalasi, Officer Communications, Dubai Airports, for their support in preparing this article.