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Dubai Hints Ambitious Plans for New ‘Airport of the Future’ in 2030

Currently a secondary airport, an expanded Al Maktoum Airport could handle 250 million passengers per year

by Lauren Smith

November 21, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Dubai International Airport

With Dubai International Airport (DXB) nearing capacity, the UAE is already drawing up plans for its successor, to be built on the city’s outskirts and projected to open in the 2030s.

Dubai’s next major hub technically already exists—Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), located 23 miles southwest of the city and primarily serving freight planes. A handful of passenger airlines, mostly Russian, are currently landing there, with Aeroflot to launch services in December.

Photo: Courtesy of Dubai World Central

Today, Al Maktoum has a capacity of just 1.6 million passengers annually. But that could rise to 250 million by 2050, under plans to massively expand the hub and redirect DXB’s crowds there.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, which owns both airports, said designs are already being produced for the new mega-airport, which will become necessary in just a few years.

“Over the next few years, we’ll be receiving 100 million passengers at DXB, and beyond that, we’ll need a new airport because we probably can’t get much beyond 115 million or 120 million,” he said, speaking at the Dubai Airshow last week.

Changing the airport business model

The revamped Al Maktoum International Airport won’t face a similar cap because it will be designed modularly, making expansion easier, said Griffiths, calling it the “airport of the future.”

“We are not planning an airport that has terminals. We’re going to completely change the business model for airports, make them actually far more intimate, and get rid of all the legacy processes that we’ve had to subject our customers to, for far too long,” he said.

He wouldn’t discuss when the new airport might open beyond saying it would be “in the 2030s” or how much it might cost. However, he said it will be a “project that extends way into the 2050s because we take the long-term view here.”

In the meantime, Dubai Airports will deploy innovative technology to boost capacity at DXB.

Photo: Courtesy of Dubai International Airport

Dubai International Airport, the home base of Emirates, is on track to handle 86.9 million passengers this year, 40% higher than in 2022 and surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time. That’s close to the airport’s current capacity of 100 million, although new technology and a more efficient use of the space could push the capacity to 120 million.

“Our immediate term strategy is to expand DXB because that’s where the demand is, and we’ve got some plans afoot to be able to invest in our existing facilities to make them more efficient and more effective,” Griffiths said.

But those improvements at DXB will only “cover us for the next 10 to 15 years.”

“Then, we have to have a real push to develop the big one.”