Dubai’s Giant Step

The first 20 gates of Concourse A at Dubai International’s Terminal 3 opened for business on January 2, 2013. (All images: Dubai Airports)

Tom Allett describes how Dubai International Airport opened the world’s first A380 Concourse.

The first 20 gates of Concourse A at Dubai International’s Terminal 3 opened for business on January 2, 2013. (All images: Dubai Airports)

As everybody knows, Dubai International (IATA: DXB) Airport’s passenger traffic has sustained remarkable growth levels in recent years.  Driven by the rapid expansion of Emirates, DXB is already the world’s fourth busiest hub for international travellers and freight, and surpassed its projected target of 56.5 million passengers in 2012.  Its operator, Dubai Airports, says that traffic is forecast to reach 66 million in 2013 and believes it is on track to achieving that most difficult of combinations, the world’s busiest passenger airport which is also the best in terms of service.
With Emirates being the largest operator of the giant Airbus A380, with over 30 already in service from a total of 90 on order, it is no surprise that Dubai Airports chose to build the world’s first entirely A380-capable concourse (rather than just a pier) at DXB’s Terminal 3, which is exclusive to Emirates and its partners.
The new facility is part of its US$7.8 billion Strategic Plan 2020, which aims to expand the airport in line with projected growth.
After his presentation at the AOA Conference, London, in October 2012, Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports told Airports International that the airport’s recent passenger figures were, “taking us closer to operating Dubai International at full capacity,” and added it was “no coincidence” that the new Concourse A would open in early 2013, “providing much needed capacity”.
The ability to handle 15 million passengers a year is delivered through an area of 5,683,344 sq ft (528,000m²) spread across 11 floors.  The concourse offers direct lounge boarding for First and Business Class customers and an impressive range of duty free shopping areas, food courts, cafes and fine dining options.  Its First and Business Class lounge is believed to be the largest in the world.  The building also has a dedicated hotel floor with both four- and five-star facilities available.  Passengers travel between the main Terminal 3 and Concourse A via underground trains or shuttle busses.
Opening on a phased basis, the concourse will increase DXB’s annual passenger capacity from 60 to 75 million.  From there, passengers will connect to more than 20 Emirates A380 destinations; including European flights with Qantas, via the two carriers’ recently announced partnership.

The first departure was the Airbus A380 service, EK003, to London Heathrow.

Prior Preparation

A series of what the airport describes as “comprehensive preliminary exercises” took place in the weeks before the opening.  These involved airport staff and those from partner organisations such as dnata, Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects, the Dubai Customs and Police services, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs and, of course, Emirates.
With the airport’s management team confident that all was in order, members of the public were invited to take part in the first large-scale trial of the building’s operational readiness.  On December 15, 2012, over 1,100 Dubai residents, men, women, children, senior citizens and people with special needs acted as passengers either arriving, departing or transiting through Concourse A.  The flow of passengers using the train between the new concourse and the main Terminal 3 was also studied and even some of the retail and food & beverage outlets took part in the exercise.
Afterwards Mr Griffiths said the trial had yielded some “very valuable insight” that led to process and system adjustments in the weeks that followed.  Mr Griffiths thanked all the volunteers who took time out from their weekend and brought their families along to lend support to the trial: “They have become part of Dubai’s aviation history.”

Volunteers at the departures level at Concourse A during the first public operational readiness trial on December 15.

The Big Day

After the necessary ‘tweaks’ were made four of the concourse’s 20 contact gates entered service on January 2.  Over 500 passengers across First, Business and Economy classes boarded the A380 service EK003 via Concourse A’s double-decker airbridges for the inaugural flight to London Heathrow.
After its 14:40 departure, His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline and Group, and Chairman of Dubai Airports said: “This is an historic and momentous occasion, marking another world first from Emirates.  The new A380 hub is another example of Emirates being a leader in providing innovative products and services that give customers an unsurpassed travel experience.  We are confident that our customers will find the new concourse to be a remarkable world class facility befitting of our flagship Emirates A380 aircraft.  I would also like to congratulate Dubai Airports on achieving this major milestone in the development of Concourse A.”
Afterwards Mr Griffiths, commented: “Just as we did with what turned out to be a flawless opening of Terminal 3 and Concourse B in 2008 – which was a much larger and more complex exercise involving the complete transfer of Emirates airline’s operations to the new facility – we are opening Concourse A in stages with more gates coming online in each successive phase.  We believe that this approach of gradual transition will enable us and all our partners to ensure smooth operations and help us to deliver on our customer service commitment.”

The airport train that connects Dubai International’s Concourse A with Terminal 3 was also tested during the December 15 operational readiness trial.

Terminal 1 Next

On January 14 a major refurbishment of DXB’s Terminal 1 was announced.  Due to commence “in the first quarter of this year”, it is being undertaken to offer passengers a “vastly improved travelling experience”.
Dubai Airports says the refurbishment will include more efficient and streamlined baggage screening in the departures hall, replacing all check-in desks, upgrading baggage systems and modernising all public areas.  The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
The new baggage screening process is expected to enhance passenger flows by eliminating a queuing point.  This is designed to reduce the time it takes passengers to move from the forecourt in Terminal 1 to the departure gates.  The airport operator says the additional space created by streamlining the baggage process will be used to “transform the departures hall” into a “more spacious and welcoming environment”.  This, combined with better wayfinding signage, should provide better access for travellers.
The Arrivals Immigration hall is being expanded and redeveloped in an effort to reduce process times for arriving passengers.  Those that have experienced its queues during peak traffic periods will appreciate the need for this.  More welcome news is that air conditioning will be provided across the arrivals hall area used by meeters and greeters.  The adjacent arrivals forecourt is also being redesigned to create what the airport says will be a “safer pedestrian environment” for passengers leaving the facility.
New food and retail outlets will also be introduced at Terminal 1.  When the refurbishment is complete, it will be linked to Concourse D, which is currently under construction, via a new elevated train line.  Due to open in 2015, Concourse D is set to accommodate over 100 airlines that serve DXB.
Commenting on the need to redevelop Terminal 1, Mr Griffiths said that in addition to significantly increasing its capacity, the work there would provide: “A more inviting and comfortable environment in line with the newer facilities across the airport’s terminals.”

The refurbishment of Dubai International’s Terminal 1 is now under way.