By: Ruchi Shroff
As Dubai International Airport enters the top five busiest airports in the world, it is clear that there is a space limitation there. Expansion of the current facilities forms a big portion of the $7.8 billion Strategic Plan at the airport, including the recent opening of the A380-only Concourse A. Even then, business aviation operators are facing a tough time finding landing slots at the airport. To reduce congestion, the Al Maktoum International Airport (AMIA) will become Dubai’s main business aviation hub in 2013.
“I am proud to announce the commencement of business aviation operations from DWC (Dubai World Central) starting early 2013,” Rashed Bu Qara’a, chief operating officer at Dubai Aviation City Corporation, said at a press conference. “This is part of the long-term migration strategy of shifting general aviation from Dubai International Airport to Al Maktoum International Airport. During this initial phase, we will utilise the VIP terminal within the passenger terminal. Shortly thereafter, we expect the first business aviation operations to commence out of DWC’s Aviation District in mid 2013.”
One of the main issues that operators face at Dubai International Airport is the lack of space and limited slots to arrive and depart. “There is a problem there as far as the capacity and we as business aviation are suffering at Dubai International Airport because of the slots,” Bu Qara’a said. “Business aviation flies on demand, this is not the case at Dubai International, so business aviation has to move from there.”
According to Michael Rucker, vice president and general manager of Jet Aviation Dubai, there are 12 fewer stands available to business airlines at the airport due to the rapid expansion of Emirates and Flydubai. He expects over 95% of all business aviation traffic to have moved to AMIA in the next five years. Business aviation does not generate the same amount of money for an airport, making it less attractive. Further, the growth of Emirates will mean that fewer slots are available at DXB in the coming months. “The conveniences of business jet services are lost at DXB because we have to wait for landing slots and parking space,” said Paras Dhamecha, executive director of Empire Aviation Group.
Dave Edwards, managing director for the Middle East, at Gama Aviation, agrees. He said that having airport access was very important for any airline and business aviation is no different. “Unfortunately, business aviation is taking a backseat at DXB due to the success of Emirates Airline,” Edwards said. With Emirates set to become the world’s second-largest airline in 2013, there will only be more space restriction at DXB in the coming year. “More airport infrastructure is always good for the aviation industry in a region, and we are glad that business aviation is getting a new home in Dubai,” Edwards added.
To counteract some of the congestion at Dubai International Airport, Gama has made its home at Sharjah airport. Edwards said that there is not as much restriction at Sharjah airport for business aviation and that its close proximity to Dubai appeals to a lot of travelers.
Other experts also agree with the space restriction issue. “One of the main challenges to the growth of business aviation is the access to airport services,” said Ali Ahmed Al Naqbi, founding chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association. “Dubai International Airport is very congested and the environment there is not very welcoming to business aviation operators. Although AMIA is not too far out of the city, it is good to make the move right now and be ahead of the game. The airport provides us with the freedom of arrivals and departures based on the VIP passengers’ schedules.”
To incorporate the growing business aviation market, three passenger terminals have been planned at Al Maktoum airport. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and chairman of Emirates Group and Dubai Airports, said that new terminals should be ready before the next Air Show in Dubai in November. The airport has been primarily used for cargo operations for the last two years and according to the executive chairman of Dubai Aviation City Corporation, Khalifa Al Zaffin, the passenger terminal is ready as well. “It has been tested and waiting for the signal to start operations,” he has said.
AMIA was built as part of a Master Plan at Dubai World Central. Originally scheduled for full completion in 2020, the AMIA project is now set to finish in 2027 due to amendments following the effects of the financial downturn. The mega airport project is designed to be the world’s largest when it is complete and Dubai’s second international hub – with five runways, four terminal buildings and capacity for 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo. The project’s first phase involved the construction of one A380-capable runway, 64 remote stands, one cargo terminal with annual capacity for 600,000 tonnes of cargo and a passenger terminal building designed to accommodate five million passengers per year when it commences operations in 2013.
Other services are also being developed to make AMIA more attractive to business aviation operators. “During 2013, three MROs and two FBOs will be launched at AMIA, making it more convenient for airlines to get the services they need,” Al Naqbi added. “In a way, the airport will provide a one-stop-shop for business airlines.”
The passenger terminal at AMIA was on display during the Middle East Business Aviation conference in December and will definitely attract many operators. At present, two business aviation firms operate FBOs from Dubai International – ExecuJet and Jet Aviation. When business aviation operations move to AMIA, the number of operators will increase to five and as aircraft movements continue to increase, that number could go up to six. In the first 11 months of 2012, total aircraft movements at AMIA rose to 11,571 from 5,403 in 2011, representing an increase of 114%.
One of the main concerns with AMIA is its distance from Dubai and the city’s commercial centre at DIFC. There is also only one runway that is currently functional and only one terminal, which will not be sufficient for operations. However, airline operators seem very optimistic about the growth at the airport and the pace of development. While operators are bullish about the move to the airport, like Dhamecha of Empire, many are waiting for the first operator to take the leap to see how well the facilities stand up to actual use. “The current set-up at AMIA is not sufficient for business operators,” he said about the lack of certain facilities. “There is only one terminal and that will restrict space. There needs to be better accessibility at the airport too.”
Of the two operators at Dubai International, Jet Aviation, has already revealed plans to move operations to AMIA by November 2013. Things might be a little more tricky for Execujet, which last year took over the FBO formerly operated by Executive Flight Services at Dubai International. It also has two hangars at the airport. However, the operator believes there will always be space for business aviation at Dubai International while it plans its move to AMIA.
“Whilst DWC presently represents a challenge in terms of infrastructure it also offers a unique and exciting opportunity for General Aviation in the region,” said Execujet operations director Mark Hardman. “ExecuJet has three large plots of land at DWC airport and expects to start full FBO operations from March 2013. In many ways, DWC offers clients better options in terms of cost, long term parking and access to the Jebel Ali side of town. Clients will also benefit from less holding time and quicker taxi times.”
Currently there is no indication that policies will require all business airlines to fly into AMIA, but convenience and time slots will eventually drive operators there for sure. It remains to be seen whether the distance factor becomes a make-or-break factor in the move. Many operators might not be left with much of a choice, but to make the move eventually. “Al Bateen is the only exclusive business aviation hub today,” Al Naqbi concluded. “It is very important to have a second hub for the growth of business aviation as it will provide the access it needs. This is a step in the right direction.”