As the Persian Gulf carriers continue their steep growth trajectory, infrastructure constraints have become a serious issue for them. But with the opening of Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai last week and Hamad International Airport soon to open in Doha, Qatar, some relief is in sight.
Part of the Dubai World Central (DWC) complex, Dubai's Al Maktoum airport opened its passenger terminal for operations Oct. 27, welcoming a Wizz Air flight from Budapest, Hungary. The low-cost carrier is one of three airlines that have signed up to use the airport 40 km (25 mi.) southwest of the city at Jebel Ali, which is also near the site of Dubai's freight seaport.
Al Maktoum opened to freight traffic in June 2010 and was licensed to begin passenger operations by the United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Sept. 17. Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways launched twice-weekly services there last week, and Bahrain-based Gulf Air will start daily operations there Dec. 8. Both airlines will continue their regular operations intoas well. plans to initiate services at Al Maktoum early next year.
Owners Dubai Airports says it is in discussions with other interested carriers about using the facility, which plans to expand to five runways with a capacity of 160 million passengers a year. The current terminal, part of the Phase 1 plans for the facility, has 64 remote aircraft stands and capacity for up to 7 million passengers per year. It is seen as a lower-cost gateway into the city, although some critics argue that the airport is underserved by public transport and too far away from the center of Dubai.
Saudi Arabian low-fare carrier Nasair withdrew its plans to begin operations out of DWC at the same time as Wizz Air because it was still studying the financial feasibility of operations from the airport.
But the most important question is when Emirates will move. The airline has made clear that it is only prepared to do so when the new airport's facilities are big enough to handle its entire operation. Emirates argues it needs to operate out of a single airport to keep its hub-and-spoke network intact. That requirement will likely push the move well past 2020 and require huge up-front infrastructure investment rather than a stepped approach.
On the other hand, DWC can take some pressure off Dubai International, if the airport operator can convince more airlines to move. They would have to be carriers that are not code-sharing with Emirates.
DWC is being offered by Dubai Airports as alternative point of entry for flights into Dubai when Dubai International closes its northern runway for resurfacing next year for 80 days starting May 1. Airport authorities are also taking the opportunity to make other improvements, including new entry and exit taxiways on both runways.
Some 50% of the required reduction in operations will come from Emirates and low-fare carrier FlyDubai, which will reduce their combined total operations by 22%. Dubai Airports says it will not be charging landing fees at DWC during the period of Dubai International's closure for those airlines that gained historic rights at Dubai during thesummer 2013 season.
Phase 2 of DWC is underway, including the construction of an additional two automated and one nonautomated cargo terminals. This is expected to increase the total freight capacity at Al Maktoum to 1.4 million tons per annum.
Thirty-six freight operators (scheduled and chartered) fly from DWC, which handled 219,092 metric tons of air freight in 2012, its second full calendar year of operations, an increase of 144% over 89,729 metric tons in 2011.
Separately, Dubai International is expanding, too, as passenger numbers are expected to exceed 78 million in 2015, when the new Concourse D opens. Once complete, that concourse will be home to the more than 100 international airlines now using Concourse C and will serve up to 18 million passengers annually. The move will open space for Emirates' expansion, as well.
Doha's Hamad International Airport, the future home for Emirates rival Qatar Airways, has been much delayed for a variety of reasons, but the Qatari government now says it will open “very soon.” It has not provided a firm date yet, but industry officials tell Aviation Week the target is sometime in the first quarter of 2014.
Officials say the main reason holding up the opening now is a broad review of its fire protection system. That aspect of construction was not at the forefront of construction planning until 19 people, including 13 children, were killed in a kindergarten fire in Doha last May. Changes to the airport are being worked on now, according to one executive.
Once completed, Hamad International will be a huge improvement over the current Doha International Airport, which has no contact gates, requiring passengers to be bussed to every flight. Many of the remote positions are on the other side of the runway and require long bus rides. While extra terminal buildings have been added over time, the airport is running out of space.
Hamad International's initial capacity of 29 million passengers is slated to increase to 50 million within three years. The complex, adjacent to the old airport, will have two parallel runways 2 km apart, allowing independent takeoffs and landings. The 4.85-km easterly runway will be the longest commercially used runway at a major airport in the world. It will allow Qatar Airways to operate even its ultra-long-haul services without payload restrictions in Doha's extremely hot summers.
The airport has an hourly capacity of 100 movements and 125 stands, 90 of them for widebodies. It can handle 13in parallel, six at terminal positions.
The new facility will also be key for Qatar Airways' further expansion in that it will help make more connections possible as the airline develops its hub network. The standard minimum connecting time will be cut to 45 min., or 30 min. for passengers receiving direct transfer assistance.
Abu Dhabi, base for, the third but smallest of the large Persian Gulf carriers, plans to open its midfield terminal complex (MTC) in 2017. The facility will be located between the airport's two parallel runways and accommodate up to 40 million passengers annually. Following four years of construction, the Abu Dhabi Airport Co. (ADAC) foresees a nine-month testing phase before the MTC is fully ready.