Dubai plans to move its busy international airport to a $35 billion new facility within 10 years

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This artist’s rendering provided by the government of Dubai shows plans for Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP)

DUBAI, UAE, April 28, (AP): Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, will move its operations to the city-state’s second, sprawling airfield in its southern desert reaches “within the next 10 years” in a project worth nearly $35 billion, its ruler said Sunday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s announcement marks the latest chapter in the rebound of its long-haul carrier Emirates after the coronavirus pandemic grounded international travel. Plans have been on the books for years to move the operations of the airport known as DXB to Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central which had also been delayed by the repercussions of the sheikhdom’s 2009 economic crisis.

“We are building a new project for future generations, ensuring continuous and stable development for our children and their children in turn,” Sheikh Mohammed said in an online statement. “Dubai will be the world’s airport, its port, its urban hub, and its new global center.”

The announcement included computer-rendered images of curving, white terminal reminiscent of the traditional Bedouin tents of the Arabian Peninsula. The airport will include five parallel runways and 400 aircraft gates, the announcement said. The airport now has just two runways, like Dubai International Airport.

The financial health of the carrier Emirates has served as a barometer for the aviation industry worldwide and the wider economic health of this city-state. Dubai and the airline rebounded quickly from the pandemic by pushing forward with tourism even as some countries more slowly came out of their pandemic crouch.

The number of passengers flying through DXB surged last year beyond its total for 2019 with 86.9 million passengers. Its 2019 annual traffic was 86.3 million passengers. The airport had 89.1 million passengers in 2018 — its busiest-ever year before the pandemic, while 66 million passengers passed through in 2022.

Earlier in February, Dubai announced its best-ever tourism numbers, saying it hosted 17.15 million international overnight visitors in 2023. Average hotel occupancy stood at around 77%. Its boom-and-bust real estate market remains on a hot streak, nearing all-time high valuations.

But as those passenger numbers skyrocketed, it again put new pressure on the capacity of DXB, which remains constrained on all sides by residential neighborhoods and two major highways.

Al Maktoum International Airport, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) away from DXB, opened in 2010 with one terminal. It served as a parking lot for Emirates’ double-decker Airbus A380s and other aircraft during the pandemic and slowly has come back to life with cargo and private flights in the time since. It also hosts the biennial Dubai Air Show and has a vast, empty desert in which to expand.

The announcement by Sheikh Mohammed noted Dubai’s plans to expand further south. Already, its nearby Expo 2020 site has been offering homes for buyers.

“As we build an entire city around the airport in Dubai South, demand for housing for a million people will follow,” Dubai’s ruler said. “It will host the world’s leading companies in the logistics and air transport sectors.”

However, financial pressures have halted the move in the past. Dubai’s 2009 financial crisis, brought on by the Great Recession, forced Abu Dhabi to provide the city-state with a $20 billion bailout.

Meanwhile, the city-state is still trying to recover after the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the UAE, which disrupted flights and commerce for days.

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