STOCK Al Maktoum International Airport NEW
The existing Al Maktoum International Airport terminal will have a new purpose once a new and gigantic new terminal comes up in its vicinity. Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: The current passenger terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport could be used as the base for a low-cost airline as part of wider plans to shift all operations from Dubai International Airport to a new Dh128 billion terminal.

"Our current facility at Al Maktoum International is a low-cost terminal,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports. “The existing terminal will continue to exist.

“I’m quite confident we will find a low-cost carrier that would love to use it for its base and headquarters. It will be a thriving operation but retain its integrity as a low-cost terminal.”

It was over the weekend that Dubai announced plans to build a new terminal at Al Maktoum International and create what would be the world’s biggest airport handling 260 million passengers each year.

Thus, Al Maktoum International (part of what’s known as Dubai World Central) will be Dubai’s main aviation hub once the transition from Dubai International (DXB) is complete. In the interim, DXB will continue to operate at total capacity, overseeing over 100 million passengers annually.

Paul Griffiths
"Those five runways in Phase 2 of Dubai World Central will have a terminal in the center," says Paul Griffiths. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Once built to full capacity, the new terminal at Al Maktoum International will serve 150 million passengers. “The current terminal is adjacent to the southernmost runway that is not anywhere close to the center terminal area,” said Griffiths.

“The Dubai World Central Phase 2 is planned to evolve into five runways eventually. Those five runways will have a terminal in the center so that aircraft can be as close to an operating runway as possible."

The Dubai government has approved designs for the new passenger terminal at Al Maktoum International.

Phase 2 construction, contracts

Airport authorities are now in the detailed design phase, where crucial decisions must be made regarding the hub's final setup, operational approach, transportation integration, customer service, and retail strategy.

Griffiths said it is too early to set deadlines for when the design phase would reach completion and when Dubai Airports would start awarding contracts.

“Huge amounts of detailed design work still (needs to) take place,” the CEO said. “We will be in very close consultation with our airlines, retailers, and all of the stakeholders at the airport to make sure that all of the 21st-century customers needs that we anticipate the new airport needs to provide are there.

"We're talking about a scale that is unprecedented - you need a couple of years to operationally test to make sure that it is ready for customers."

STOCK Al Maktoum International Airport NEW
It will be a gradual transition from DXB once the new airport project fully slots into place. A lot of pros and cons will need to be looked into, according to Dubai Airports' CEO. Image Credit: WAM

The design must be based on something other than existing airport processes and products. “This has got to be something brand new that takes its cue from 21st-century technology,” Griffiths added.

“Technology is moving so quickly. Trying to preempt what technological wizardry will be available in 10 years is rather difficult.

“What we need to do is create an open space that is flexible and enables us to implement systems and technology very quickly and easily.”

Airlines in transition

According to Griffiths, once the construction of Phase 2 at DWC is complete, the migration of passenger and air traffic from Dubai International could take a year as ‘wholesale’ moves are not feasible.

"We are talking about taking away the entire operation of DXB, as it will be, and I imagine it will be close to 120 (million passengers) by then. Suppose we're close to 120 million, in that case, we've got to move that entire airport that is five to six times larger than any airport in history.

"We will see a gradual traffic migration from DXB to DWC over a period of up to a year. We will have to manage it incrementally, and once we've established traffic at the new airport, DXB will have to close once the last passenger departs."

Griffiths also said he anticipates a tailored transition to avoid operational splits among airlines. He said flydubai might gradually shift more of its operations to DWC while maintaining its ties with Emirates.

“Over time, you'll see Emirates start to move. They probably won't have to do it in several phases.”

When Dubai’s flagship carrier moved its base from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 in DXB, the airport adopted a regional-transition approach. “For example, there were the American flights, European flights, and Middle East flights,” said Griffiths. “We accelerated that because it went so well.”

For DWC, the airport authorities will adopt a conservative approach.

“We will make sure that the migration minimises the disruption to our customers and maximises everyone's ability to know exactly where they need to be,” said the CEO. “We are not looking to end up with a nightmare scenario where you get off a plane in one airport and need to catch the next one in another airport.”

Emirates, flydubai already set for DWC shift
Dubai's Emirates and flydubai confirmed the upcoming terminal as their main hub. They jointly ordered 125 Boeing wide-body aircraft, and Emirates added 15 Airbus A350-900s at the Dubai Airshow last year.

The new terminal's ample capacity fits their expanding fleets and growth plans.

Will airlines move to DWC?

According to Griffiths, operations at DWC are still in the ‘post-Covid recovery phase’. The passenger terminal at DWC welcomed 546,000 passengers on 4,263 flights last year. The airport terminal handled 576,000 tonnes of cargo. “We've got a fairly limited amount of operations going through. There are quite a lot of Russian charters, for example. Lots of holiday traffic in the winter, particularly. But it's mostly a cargo hub, " Griffiths said.

Dubai Airports moved some of its operations to DWC amid the pandemic; however, passengers and airlines prefer to fly out of DXB due to its central location in the heart of Dubai.

In an earlier interview with Gulf News, Griffiths said Dubai Airports had adopted a deliberate policy to differentiate the operation price between DXB and DWC to incentivise airline traffic at DWC. However, Griffiths is confident that airlines will move their operations to DWC once Dubai’s flag carrier and one of the world’s biggest airlines, Emirates, makes the new airport terminal its home.

“They (airlines) want to be where Emirates is, so they can be at maximum competition to Emirates as they possibly can be. It is rather honeypot idea, wherever the competition is most intense, that’s where they will want to be,” he added.