x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Runway will give Dubai the jump on its rivals

Expansion means bigger planes will be able to take more jumpers into the air over the Palm Jumeirah.

The Parachute Regiment Freefall Team, Red Devils, practicing at The Skydive complex near JBR last year.
The Parachute Regiment Freefall Team, Red Devils, practicing at The Skydive complex near JBR last year.

DUBAI // Skydive Dubai has built a longer runway - out into the sea - so even more people can jump out of an aircraft at nearly 4,000 metres over the Palm Jumeirah.

From humble beginnings in 2008 as a sand runway, a tent and a few portable cabins, the site has become one of Dubai's top attractions. And the longer the runway, the more people can take off in one aircraft.

"Its definitely number one with visuals," said Alan Gayton, operations manager at Skydive Dubai. "All the other big drop zones around the world are all different in their own right."

Flo Rida, the singer, gave Skydive Dubai's profile a boost when he filmed most of his Wild Ones video with the company. It has received nearly 120 million hits on YouTube.

This year the centre built a 750-metre runway that stretches about 550 metres into the Arabian Gulf.

"I've seen runways finishing in the sea but not two-thirds of them in the sea," Mr Gayton said.

A spokesman for Laing O'Rourke, which built the runway, said it was the longest of its kind in the Middle East.

"There can only be a handful in the world," the spokesman added.

The company dredged about 800,000 cubic metres of sand and formed a temporary causeway to make the runway out of precast concrete.

The old, 400-metre runway was removed this month and management was finalising the number of UK wind tunnels, used to train people how to skydive without going up in plane, to be built in its place.

The landing zone was also expanded.

With the longer runway, up to 150 tandems can be made with the planes able to take up a maximum of 22 people instead of 18.

Before the limit was 70 at the weekends. Most people jump first in a tandem, attached to a qualified jumper.

There will be other new attractions, although the details were being kept secret.

"There will be lots but we are not saying anything until it is all firmed up and it's nice to surprise people with something new," Mr Gayton said. "But this will be the extreme [sports] centre of the UAE."

The Palm Jumeirah has become a well-known jump, attracting tourists worldwide, he said.

"We have groups of 200 or 300 coming for events and then get groups of 10 to 20 coming from their native countries and doing a week holiday here jumping."

For the more advanced jumpers, a swoop pond was built two years ago next to the landing zone. The stretch of water has several different uses.

Canopy-piloting jumpers can approach the pond at speed and either drag their feet along the water or score points by going through entry and exit gates, or landing in particular boxes.

Another discipline works like a long jump, where a parachutist approaches the water at speed and then propels himself into the air. The aim is to go the furthest.

"It's one of the most visual of disciplines," Mr Gayton said.

The club has also won the rights to hold the World Parachuting Championships Mondial 2012, the pinnacle of skydiving, in November.

eharnan@thenational.ae