Dubai has delayed the award of the enabling works for the first phase of the expansion of Al-Maktoum International airport.

Dubai Airports Engineering Projects (DAEP) had been expected to award the contract by the end of last year, and the local Al-Naboodah Contracting Company was understood to be the frontrunner. The bidders are understood to include the local Ghantoot Group and the local Tristar.

This year, the tender process has gone quiet with no award or advanced negotiations. The contract covers enabling works for five new runways that involves about 70 million cubic metres of earth-moving. Sources close to the project now expect the scope to be drastically reduced, raising doubts about Dubai’s ability to deliver the $33bn airport expansion as quickly as initially planned when the project was publicly launched in October last year.

One of the major challenges for such a large project is funding, and although some export credit, notably from the UK with a proposal of $2bn, has been pledged, more financing will have to be secured if the project is to be completed as planned.

The ambitious programme planned for Al-Maktoum International will make it the biggest airport in the world by 2050 with the capacity to handle 255 million passengers a year. In early November last year, DAEP told contractors it will start tendering contracts for building work at the airport in 2015.

The planned construction work includes a new terminal building, six nodes or concourses connected to the terminal by people movers, and new runways. The terminal will also be connected to the new metro link planned by Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority (RTA).

The estimated $33bn first phase is the largest airport construction scheme ever undertaken in the world. Once complete, it will take the airport’s capacity to 130 million passengers a year and make it capable of accommodating 100 A380 aircraft at any one time.

Once the first phase is complete, a second phase will start that will increase the capacity further to 255 million with five runways, another terminal building and more concourses. The entire development will cover an area of 56 square kilometres and it is due to be completed by the end of 2021.

The concept design for the new terminal has been completed by a team of Lebanon’s Dar al-Handasah and France’s ADPI.

The development aims to provide the necessary facilities to accommodate passenger and cargo growth, and will also allow Emirates to relocate its intercontinental hub operations to the new airport by the mid-2020s.

Al-Maktoum International is needed to further develop Dubai’s status as a global aviation hub, as growth opportunities at Dubai International airport are becoming limited due to its location in the city. That airport is already one of the busiest in the world.

Dubai International dealt with about 71 million passengers in 2014, surpassing London Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic.

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