Work on Dubai’s mega-airport, Dubai World Central, has been halted due to a sharp rollback of the UAE’s economy.
Bloomberg reports that construction work has temporarily ceased at Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). The decision to halt construction was forced on Dubai Airports by a general malaise in the economy of the region.
Dubai’s government intends the new airport at Jebel Ali to be the largest in the world. Annual passenger footfall is expected to be in the region of 250 million. But the cost of the entire DWC development has been estimated to be in excess of $32 billion.
DWC Phase 1
In 2007, Al Maktoum’s runway was completed. It took Al Naboodah Contracting just 600 days to complete. A year later, construction of the airport’s cargo terminal reached the half-way mark. But a previous dwindling of the Gulf economy then halted further expansion of the site. Work was postponed until 2027.
The latest economic downturn looks set to push back completion still further.
Since the site opened for business in 2010 only 11 passenger airlines visit the airport. Furthermore, despite a worthy increase in capacity since its opening, the number of customers passing through the terminal stands at less than a million.
Crucially, Emirates, which targeted the airport as its new super-hub, has ambitions held at bay by the latest faltering of the build. It aimed to take full advantage of the airport’s rating as the biggest on the planet. At its inception, Dubai’s executive promised that Al Maktoum could effortlessly handle twice the total number of passengers as any of the world’s busiest airports, including Heathrow.
If built, the super-hub would allow Emirates to build on its reputation as the world’s go-to long-haul airline. Meanwhile, the Dubai carrier languishes at the already overcrowded Dubai International airport.
Economy slow down
Despite its reputation as a desert boomtown, Dubai is left wanting and has been since 2017. In 2018 the city’s economy grew at its slowest since 2010.
According to The Economist, the city’s reliance on revenue from trade, tourism and property rather than oil has meant that it is at the mercy of regional conflicts and political unrest. Furthermore, some analysts suspect the property market to be over-saturated.
That leaves the fate of the Al Maktoum Big Build in serious doubt. And to make matters worse for Dubai Airports Emirates is also not in the best shape, thwarted both by high oil prices and an overall lull in tourism. The Financial Times reported in May of this year that Emirates’ profit fell by two thirds in the 2018-2019 financial year. In addition, the carrier’s fuel bill rose 25% to Dh30.8bn, accounting for 32% of operating costs.
Writes the FT, boss of Emirates Group said, “2018-19 has been tough, and our performance was not as strong as we would have liked.
“Higher oil prices and the strengthened US dollar eroded our earnings, even as competition intensified in our key markets . . . and we also saw travel demand weaken, particularly in our region.”
In a statement to Bloomberg, Dubai Airports revealed that it was in the process of a revised timescale for the build. However, a spokesman for Dubai Airports admitted that “exact timelines and details of next steps are not as yet finalized.”