x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Al Maktoum International clears for take-off with cargo carriers

The first airlines have signed up to operate from Dubai's second airport, Al Maktoum International, part of which opens at the end of this month.

The first airlines have signed up to operate from Dubai's second airport, Al Maktoum International, part of which opens at the end of this month. The opening of the airport close to Dubai's major seaport, Jebel Ali, will launch a new phase for Dubai's logistics and transport industry, which was the engine of the Dubai economy for decades before property development and other diversification schemes gathered pace.

Andrew Walsh, the vice president of cargo and logistics for Dubai Airports, said his company had signed a number of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with cargo airlines to become the first carriers to serve the new airport. Dubai Airports and its sister agency Dubai Logistics City, have put together a package of incentives for the first airlines to build a critical mass of tenants. The incentives include periods of discounted or free aircraft parking and landings, as well as office and warehouse space.

Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, "has signed a number of MoUs", Mr Walsh said. "We are in the process of finalising certain operators." He declined to provide the number of freight firms ready to go or their names, but said: "It is good to get airlines signed up, absolutely." The Middle East is experiencing a strong rebound in air cargo after the global economic downturn. The region's airlines posted a 26 per cent gain in cargo volumes in April compared with April last year, and 35.5 per cent rise in March.

The expansion at Al Maktoum is being planned to keep pace with the heady growth of Dubai as a major air transit point. Dubai International Airport handled 1.92 million tonnes of cargo last year, a gain of 5.6 per cent during the worst downturn in civil aviation history. The airport operator has forecast demand exceeding 3 million tonnes by 2015 as Emirates Airline and other carriers carry more goods from Asia and then re-export them in the Gulf, Africa, Europe and even the US.

Plans call for Al Maktoum International to have five runways and the capacity for 160 million passengers a year and 12 million tonnes of cargo when it is fully complete in the 2020s or 2030s, at a projected cost of US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn). In its current phase, it has cargo capacity of 250,000 tonnes a year, rising to 600,000 tonnes soon, and room for 5 million passengers a year. It is slated to begin passenger operations next March.

Last April, Dubai Airports officials said they were reviewing the masterplan, which could have major effects on the design, cost and completion date. The new airport, including the logistics, property and office space development surrounding it called Dubai World Central, sits on a parcel of land in the Dubai desert reserved decades ago by the then Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed. As the project goes from blueprint to reality, Dubai Airports officials are trying to encouraging some of the largest tenants of Dubai International Airport to cross over, companies such as Cargolux, Atlas Cargo and DHL.

Mr Walsh said many freight firms were locked into their summer flight schedules but he expected airlines to move to Al Maktoum with increasing frequency later this year. Cargolux officials yesterday said they had no immediate plans to move to the new airport. The entire transition of dedicated cargo airlines should take five years, according to Mr Walsh, who stressed the moves would be voluntary.

"There will be no forced move out to Dubai World Central," he said. The only requirements that Dubai Airports has made of airlines are for those operating older aircraft, such as DC-8s, DC-9s, and Boeing 707 and 727s, which are noisier. They will be prohibited from flying out of Dubai International beginning in November, but permitted to use Al Maktoum Airport. igale@thenational.ae