Paul Griffiths Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai International is to be expanded to handle 118 million passengers a year by 2023, 18 million more than the previously slated cap of 100 million passengers, Dubai Airports’ Chief Executive told Gulf News on Monday.

The decision to increase capacity has been taken as an “insurance policy” against any possibility of a delay in the expansion of Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central (DWC), Paul Griffiths said in an interview at Dubai International.

“If we cap DXB [Dubai International] in 2020 at 100 million [passenger] that would potentially be five years before there would be any further growth … that would be an unacceptable situation to plateau and allow other airports to get ahead,” he said.

DWC is set to be expanded to handle 120 million passengers a year by 2025, up from 5 million passengers today, the same year Emirates has said it would shift over to the new airport.

But there are questions over whether the project can be delivered on time. In September 2014, when the expansion was announced, he told Gulf News the project would need to break ground that year to be ready on time. On Monday, Griffiths said construction has not started with the project still in the design stage. Still, he also said 2025 remains the target date for delivery.

The extra 18 million in passenger capacity to be found at Dubai International by 2023 is largely to come from a technology and streamlining processes rather than building new terminals, Griffiths said. This includes a target to increase aircraft landings and take-offs to between 40 and 41 an hour in peak periods, up from 36 to 37 today.

Emirates, the biggest airline at Dubai International, is likely to welcome the plans to further expand the airport. It has previously warned of increasing congestion at Dubai International, something that it fears could choke its own growth.

“We’ve created that buffer capacity at DXB to allow continual growth here because what we don’t want to do is get into a situation where there is no more airport capacity to allow Emirates to continue to grow. And as an insurance policy in case there is a delay of producing DWC Phase Two,” Griffiths said.

Also on Monday, Dubai Airports said Dubai International passenger numbers grew in 2015 by 10.7 per cent to 78.01 million. Next year, Griffiths is forecasting around 89 million passengers despite a gloomy global economic outlook due to a slowing down in China and the weakening oil price.

Many of those passengers will pass through Terminal 1’s newly built Concourse D, which Griffiths said will open later this quarter. The new concourse will cater to all airlines currently operating in Terminal 1’s Concourse C, except for Emirates. When Concourse D opens, Emirates will take over Terminal 1’s Concourse C, which will also be refurbished, including upgrading gates for Airbus A380 aircraft and Boeing 777 sized aircraft.

Flydubai to head to DWC by 2020

Over the longer term, Emirates will start to move into Concourse D around 2020 when “regional airlines” shift over into Terminal 2, which is currently occupied by flydubai, Griffiths said. By 2020, flydubai will have moved the majority of its operations to DWC, he said.

“Capacity here [at Dubai International] is limited and it makes use of scarce resource to put large airplanes on the slots that are available here,” Griffiths added.

Flydubai operates a fleet of Boeing 737s, narrow-body aircraft, and in October 2015 it started split-hub operations from DWC.

Asked about Griffiths comments, flydubai Chief Executive Ghaith Al Ghaith told Gulf News by email, “With the delivery of more than 100 aircraft due between the second half of 2016 and 2023 we remain focussed on supporting travel, trade and tourism by enhancing connectivity from Dubai’s two airports.”