Dubai Airports passenger traffic to scale new heights

Al Maktoum International Airport

By Shweta Jain

Amidst all the political turmoil in the region, Dubai Airports managed to increase first-quarter 2011 passenger traffic by 7 per cent at Dubai International Airport and is aiming for almost 100 million throughput by 2020.

Al Maktoum International AirportDubai International Airport is forecast to become the world’s busiest airport by 2015, the aviation body, which manages both Dubai International and DWC-Al Maktoum International airports, said during the Arabian Travel Market 2011 exhibition.

Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer of Dubai Airports, discussed the company’s strategy to achieve these ambitious targets, especially as the new DWC-Al Maktoum International braces for the opening of commercial and passenger operations next year.

Gulf News: Why did you decide to defer the launch of passenger operations at DWC-Al Maktoum International until next year?

Paul Griffiths: We originally thought that we would invest in the new airport immediately when the project launched, and then build at that new airport exclusively and then [make the] transition from the existing airport. The problem was that it wasn’t physically possible to build a new airport fast enough — and at a high enough capacity — to make that possible.

So we had to look at a model that enabled us to develop a long-term solution capacity.

As a result, we decided that the only way we could actually achieve the growth numbers is by continuing to make the best opportunity of expanding Dubai International to its maximum capacity and at the same time develop DWC to its ultimate capacity.

It gives us the time and the cashflow to develop the new airport [ so that it is] able to reach its design capacity by the end of the next decade.

You said last week that Emirates will take over concourses 1, 2 and 3. So what happens to the airline’s plans to shift operations to DWC-Al Maktoum International?

We need to develop something at DWC-Al Maktoum International that’s big enough to accommodate Emirates in one go, which is a part of the problem. We can’t build the 80-million passenger capacity quick enough to enable them to move in the short term.

It’s going to be a longer term plan which is what we are pushing for.

That’s why we have to continue to develop Dubai International to meet their [Emirates’] short-term growth aspirations. And that gives us time to develop DWC-Al Maktoum International to its largest potential.

So, is Emirates still planning to shift to DWC by 2020?

I don’t think it would be 2020. The earliest Emirates would be able to shift to the new airport would be by 2025, as Emirates has pointed out as well.

What is the status of flydubai’s plans to shift to the new airport? Is that still a part of the low-cost carrier’s future plans?

I don’t think flydubai will shift to the new airport in the near future. Ultimately, it will shift to DWC-Al Maktoum International, but I think flydubai’s business model is very well established at Dubai International.

And there will be cap-acity for their continued growth. So we do not want to put any pressure on them to move.

They should be allowed to grow in the most successful way possible.

Our role as an infrastructure provider is to provide the growth opportunity and not to dictate how the commercial model of the airline should be constructed.

With DWC-Al Maktoum International’s passenger operations roughly planned for launch in 2012, do you see the airport pulling some traffic from Abu Dhabi?

I am not sure that is the case. Going by the GCC aviation story, the growth is so strong that I think this [DWC airport] will be incremental. I don’t think we will be stealing traffic from any other GCC airport.

This is going to be organic growth with existing carriers extending their hub operations and also perhaps new airlines coming in from other parts of the world.

We have seen that happen quite a lot this year.

And we are now at up to 150 airlines, which is 30 more airlines from the last year.

That sort of growth is where the future of DWC-Al Maktoum International lies — picking up incremental traffic rather than getting it from other airports.