Dubai considers restarting $33bn airport project

07 April 2023
Progress on the emirate's largest construction project stalled with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic

Dubai is considering plans for restarting the emirate’s largest construction project, the AED120bn ($33bn) expansion of Al-Maktoum International airport.

According to sources close to the project, talks among officials connected with the project are continuing in the background. Potential stakeholders with a key role in completing the scheme have been informally told to be prepared as the scheme is expected to restart.

The return of Dubai’s largest construction project will be a major boost for the emirate’s economy, which while buoyant, is not producing the same volume of construction work as in the past.

READ MORE: The GCC’s top future airport projects

A rebound in traffic numbers has strengthened the outlook for the expansion. Dubai International airport handled 66.1 million passengers in 2022. While this is below the 86.4 million passengers recorded in 2019, growing monthly numbers mean Dubai expects 78 million to use the airport in 2023 before returning to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

One of the key future challenges for Dubai international airport is runway capacity. It only has two runways, and as aircraft movements increase, it is expected to reach maximum capacity. The trend is expected to accelerate further as Emirates airline starts operating smaller Airbus A350 planes with fewer seats, which will mean more aircraft movements.

Regional competition

Another challenge is regional competition. Dubai is the region’s largest airport and Emirates is the region’s largest airline. That position is now challenged by plans in Saudi Arabia. At the end of last year, it launched the masterplan for King Salman International airport in Riyadh, which aims to accommodate up to 120 million passengers by 2030 and 185 million by 2050. Earlier this year, it launched a new airline known as Riyadh Air.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia raises aviation stakes

The expansion of Al-Maktoum International airport, also known as Dubai World Central (DWC), was officially launched in 2014. It involves building the biggest airport in the world by 2050, with the capacity to handle 255 million passengers a year. An initial phase, which was due to be completed in 2030, will take the airport’s capacity to 130 million passengers a year. 

Altogether, the development will cover an area of 56 square kilometres.

Tendering activity

Progress on the project slipped as the region grappled with the impact of lower oil prices and Dubai focused on developing the Expo 2020 site. Tendering for work on the project then stalled with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Firms were competing for the estimated $2.7bn substructure contract for Concourse 1 and the West Terminal building – the largest contract tendered for the project.

The contract covers the delivery of more than 1.7 million square metres of connected basement footprint. It will house the people-mover tunnels, baggage handling systems, ground services road network and other back-of-house technical and support facilities.

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