World's largest airport? Dubai wants to build it
Dubai is ready to unveil its massive new airport to passengers on Oct. 27 after a final go-ahead by its aviation authority.
"This really heralds a new era of Dubai becoming a two-city passenger airport," Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, told CNBC.
Al Maktoum International, a central component of the huge Dubai World Central commercial complex, can currently handle 7 million passengers a year. Once phase three of its expansion is complete around 2030, the facility is expected to boast five runways and eventually accommodate 160 million passengers per year. It would make it the largest airport in the world in terms of passenger capacity.
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"I think the future for aviation in Dubai, as it has been since 1960, is one of continuous and positive growth," Griffiths said.
The new airport has been open to cargo traffic since June 2010, and low-cost airlines are seen following first. Hungary's Wizz Air is already set to begin operations, and "serious talks" with three more airlines are underway.
Al Maktoum International is slated to replace Dubai's current airport, although no date has been set. In the meantime, Dubai International is undergoing its own $7.8 billion refurbishment program that will take it up to 100 million passengers a year by 2020.
"But our growth targets beyond that don't really allow us to continue to develop the existing airport, we just simply haven't got the room," Griffiths added.
Dubai International is already one of the busiest hubs in the world, growing rapidly in recent years together with its home carrier, Emirates. In the first six months of 2013, Dubai International handled 32.6 million passengers, up 16.9 percent compared with the same period in 2012.
Dubai Airports expects to close out the year with 65.4 million passengers, a figure that would place it right on the heels of London Heathrow. Still, Griffiths believes it will not be before 2015 that Dubai takes over the top spot.
Aviation plays a quintessential role in Dubai's economy, forecast to contribute 32 percent of economic output by 2020.
Competition has become fierce among airlines in the region vying for global growth, and among individual airports striving to provide the necessary hub infrastructure. The milestone achievement in Dubai may prove painful for authorities in Qatar, following unexpected delays of its new $15 billion airport.
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Turkey is also investing heavily in capacity growth in the race for primary hub status. A new complex is planned to house six runways and ultimately handle 150 million passengers per year.
"There are so many cities on the planet that can logically be connected through the Middle East," Griffiths said. "If you're competing with neighbors here … there's plenty in the world market for us just to need a couple of percentage market share points to be able to fully meet our growth expectations for the next decade and beyond."
—By CNBC's Yousef Gamal El-Din. Follow him on Twitter @youseftv