x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Maktoum airport earns its wings

Dubai aviation authorities have announced a successful test flight at Al Maktoum International Airport in Jebel Ali, clearing the way for the airport to officially open on Sunday.

The Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International Airport will open for cargo operations on Sunday after the new airport passed a series of operational tests conducted during its first live flight yesterday.
The Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International Airport will open for cargo operations on Sunday after the new airport passed a series of operational tests conducted during its first live flight yesterday.

Dubai aviation authorities have announced a successful test flight at Al Maktoum International Airport in Jebel Ali, clearing the way for the airport to officially open on Sunday. Al Maktoum airport and Dubai World Central, a surrounding project focused on property, commercial and leisure developments, are Dubai's largest infrastructure undertaking.

The airport, which is envisaged eventually to be the world's largest, is to become the home of Emirates Airline. An Emirates cargo flight from Hong Kong touched down at Al Maktoum on Sunday afternoon in one step of Dubai's move to become a "pre-eminent centre" for the global aviation industry, said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the top official of the emirate's aviation properties. Those holdings include Emirates, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Dubai Airports.

The facility will initially open for cargo carriers, with passenger operations slated to start next March. The project has run 18 months behind its initial schedule, with authorities saying the permit process took longer than expected. Extra time was also needed for the development of infrastructure such as a 10km bonded, or customs-controlled, highway connecting the Jebel Ali seaport with the airport.

Sunday's flight tested the airport's air traffic control, taxiways and signs, radio communications, cargo handling, fuelling, catering, customs, immigration and security, Dubai Airports said. The General Civil Aviation Authority, a Federal body, will conduct a final review on Thursday to complete the licensing of the airport. Although Emirates conducted the test flight, the carrier is not expected to move to the airport for some years, preferring to keep its cargo and passenger operations at Dubai International Airport in Deira.

Dubai Airports officials have said a number of cargo operators have signed agreements to operate from the new airport. Details would be announced shortly, the officials said. Some of the largest global operators, such as FedEx and Cargolux, have said they had no immediate plans to relocate from Dubai International to Al Maktoum airport. Eventually, however, all cargo operations will be moved to the new airport. The transition of all dedicated cargo airlines should take five years, according to Dubai Airports, which stressed the moves would be voluntary.

Dubai Airports and its sister agency Dubai Logistics City have put together a package of incentives to attract a critical mass of tenants. The incentives include periods of discounted or free aircraft landings and parking, and concessionary terms on office and warehouse space. The first phase of the airport will feature a single runway, 64 remote aircraft stands, a cargo terminal with a 250,000-tonne annual capacity and a passenger terminal able to accommodate 5 million passengers annually.

When completed sometime in the 2020s or 2030s, Al Maktoum airport is expected to be the largest airport in the world, with five runways, four terminal buildings and an annual capacity of 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo. Eliska Hill, the general manager of the Dubai office of Chapman Freeborn, an aviation chartering firm, said the proximity to Jebel Ali port and free zone was a benefit.

"With the bonded bridge linking the free zone to the airport, this should allow charter operations to be smoother overall," Ms Hill said. She said she was waiting "with interest" to see when a bonded shuttle transit between the two airports would make an appearance. Marcus Sandanam, a freight forwarder at Panalpina Air and Ocean, which is building a 4,000 square metre cargo handling facility at Al Maktoum, said the airport was likely to be integrated into Dubai's air cargo industry at a measured pace.

"You can't expect it to ramp up immediately. It will take time," Mr Sandanam said. igale@thenational.ae