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Dubai Reveals Ambitious Plan to Build the World’s Largest Airport

The future home of Emirates will have five runways, 400 gates, and welcome up to 260 million passengers a year

by Lauren Smith

April 29, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of Dubai Airports

Dubai will relocate its airport operations from the current Dubai International Airport (DXB) to a $35 billion mega airport in its southern desert within the next decade, the emirate’s ruler announced on Sunday.

Today, Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) is a secondary airport for the city-state, largely dedicated to cargo and charter flights, with a limited schedule of commercial passenger flights. In 2022, it welcomed just 877,400 travelers, a fraction of the 66 million who passed through DXB 28 miles to its north the same year.

Photo: Courtesy of Dubai Airports

However, within just ten years, DWC could host 260 million passengers annually in an airport five times the size of DXB. Those passengers will depart and arrive from 400 gates as jets take off and land on five parallel runways, three more than DXB boasts.

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

The sheik has approved designs for the new terminal, a white, curved building evoking the Bedouin tents traditionally used in the Arabian peninsula, depicted in digital renderings. Construction will start soon on a project forecast to cost AED 128 billion ($35 billion).

Photo: Courtesy of HH Sheikh Mohammed

Eventually, Al Maktoum Airport, which, during the coronavirus crisis, served as a parking lot for Emirates’ grounded Airbus A380s and other jets, will become the home base of the flag carrier.

“The new airport… will prepare the ground for the next 40 years of anticipated growth in Dubai’s aviation sector,” said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, chairman and CEO of Emirates Airline and Group. “It will respond to the [Emirates’] ambitious plans in terms of fleet acquisition and passenger growth.”

He hinted at the planned airport’s “cutting-edge technologies, passenger facilities with unmatched level of service, and state-of-the-art aviation support facilities.”

Dubai has been planning a successor airport for DXB for nearly 20 years, anticipating that the city-state’s booming tourism industry and the globe-spanning reach of Emirates would eventually outgrow the hub. DXB welcomed 87 million visitors last year, a record that draws it close to its capacity of 100 million.

Hemmed in by residential neighborhoods and two highways, the airport can’t be expanded.

Photo: Courtesy of Dubai Airports

“There isn’t really the space to be able to add additional runways or terminals at DXB, so all eyes are on the potential future of another airport development at DWC,” Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, owner of both airports, told Bloomberg TV in February.

“DXB will continue to serve as the primary hub, meeting the needs of 100 million plus guests over the next few years as phase two of DWC takes shape,” he added in a statement on Sunday.

Griffiths previously discussed how technology and more efficient use of space could boost the capacity of DXB to 120 million but that even those improvements will only “cover us for the next 10 to 15 years.”

The sprawling Al Maktoum Airport will also be the linchpin of a planned city known as Dubai South or Dubai World Central.

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