Why Is Dubai World Central Airport Being Built?

Dubai has experienced enormous growth, both economically and physically, in recent decades. The UAE’s most populous city has seen a correspondingly fast expansion in terms of its primary airport. Dubai International (DXB) is home to Emirates, which has become an industry heavyweight. Today, its second airport, Al Maktoum International, also known as Dubai World Central (DWC), is also growing quickly. But what is the reason for this expansion?

Dubai World Central Airport
Dubai World Central Airport opened in 2010 as Al Maktoum International. Photo: Getty Images

Big plans

Dubai International has grown to become an industry-leading intercontinental mega-hub. As such, you’d be forgiven for being unaware of Dubai World Central and its lofty future ambitions. However, DWC is set to become the centerpiece of an exciting urban development, known as Dubai South, before the decade is over.

Situated just under 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Dubai itself, Dubai South will be a residential, commercial, and logistics complex that forms a free economic zone. This will be supported by the airport at its heart, none other than Dubai World Central.

While the airport is already operational, its full-scale opening is not set to take place until 2027. It is planned to be able to process in the region of 12 million tonnes of cargo annually. This traffic will be supplemented by a strong passenger flow, estimated to be between 160 and 260 million travelers a year.

Dubai World Central Airport
Although DWC is currently a relatively modest facility, huge expansions are planned. Photo: Getty Images

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With a planned surface area of over 280 square kilometers (108 square miles), DWC is set to become the world’s largest airport by physical size. This enormous area is set to house as many as five 4,500-meter long parallel runways, on which up to four parallel landings will be possible. The airport does not intend to replace the existing Dubai International. Instead, it will complement DXB, and the two are set to be linked by a proposed high-speed railway.

The airport today

At present, Dubai World Central has two runways. These are the 4,500-meter long runway 12/30, and the shorter runway 13/31, measuring 1,838 meters long. DWC is a fairly quiet airport as far as passenger operations are concerned. It currently plays host to local low-cost carrier flydubai, which serves Amman, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon from DWC.

DWC currently serves just three scheduled destinations, of which two are flydubai routes. Photo: flydubai

The airport’s only other scheduled flights are operated by Russian flag carrier Aeroflot, which serves Moscow Sheremetyevo from DWC. However, the airport is a popular seasonal destination among European charter airlines. Several of these carriers operate such flights in and out of DWC during busy holiday periods. These services connect Dubai with countries such as Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine.

Increased COVID-19 significance

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted nearly all areas of passenger-based commercial aviation. However, in a way, it has served to revitalize the industry’s cargo market. Even traditionally passenger-focussed airlines have been getting in on the act, as the health crisis has relied on a seamless international flow of resources. For example, Virgin Atlantic announced last year that its cargo operations had grown by 50% in 2020.

Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777F
DWC is well-suited to Emirates SkyCargo’s vaccine delivery flights. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Airfreight has become particularly significant since vaccination efforts against the virus commenced. With DWC being a hub for Emirates SkyCargo, it has seen scores of vaccine-laden aircraft arrive and depart in recent months. With Emirates’ intercontinental reach, the airport is considered a perfect worldwide vaccine hub. This increased traffic represents useful preparation for when the airport is complete and fully operational at the end of the decade.

What do you make of Dubai World Central Airport? Can you see it becoming an established intercontinental hub like the existing Dubai International in years to come? Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comments.