DUBAI, (AFP) — Dubai’s ruler boasted on Thursday that the emirate’s newly opened second airport, which currently serves only cargo, is a need for the Gulf region.
“This is not just an airport. It is a city … and a free zone … needed by the whole region,” said Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum, as he toured Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International Airport, which opened on Sunday.
“Dubai has promised and delivered,” he said, even though the airport was originally due to open in late 2008.
DWC-Al Maktoum International is touted to become the world’s largest airport with a capacity to handle 160 million passengers a year.
But for the moment, with just one out of five runways completed, the airport is open only to cargo traffic. It is due to start serving passengers in March, with an initial capacity to handle five million.
The new airport is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the current Dubai International Airport, which is also undergoing expansion and is already the busiest in the Middle East. It handled 42 million passengers in 2009 — a figure expected to reach 100 million by 2020.
It is part of the 32-billion-dollar (25.8 billion euro) DWC project, which covers 140 square kilometres (87 square miles) and is planned to be an urban aviation community, featuring a free zone, a logistics city and real estate developments.
DWC is located on the desert outskirts of Dubai, close to the Jebel Ali free zone and port, which is world’s biggest man-made port and the largest Middle Eastern harbour.
“We are very pleased to see, on the cargo side, that more than 13 airlines are already signing up to operate here, and there are many more to be announced very soon,” said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, the head of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.
DWC-Al Maktoum International has a current capacity to handle 250,000 tonnes of cargo, a figure that should surge to 12 million tonnes when the airport is completed.
The massive project was announced when Dubai’s economy was booming at a breakneck speed. But the emirate’s economy has since been severely hit by the global financial crisis which brought growth in Dubai’s construction sector to a shrieking halt.
Dubai is also battling to repay a large burden of debt accumulated as the city-state borrowed heavily to build a modern infrastructure and grandiose projects.