A flight carrying a little more than 100 passengers from Budapest touched down today at Dubai's new Al Maktoum International Airport, a modest first arrival for a terminal designers hope will be the world's largest in just 10 years.
The United Arab Emirates' most flashy city-state, known for its high-flying ambitions, already gave the new airport the code DWC for Dubai World Central. The name mirrors Dubai's vision of itself as a connection point between east and west.
The airport's construction and development is forecast to cost more than $32 billion. When complete, it will have five runways capable of handling 160 million passengers a year. About 63 per cent of that will be people in transit, said Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths at the inauguration of the new passenger terminal.
Aviation comprises 28 per cent of Dubai's gross domestic product, some $22 billion a year. Much of the current revenue comes from Dubai International Airport, which is the fourth busiest airport in the world serving around 57 million passengers last year. That airport, though, is expected to reach its full capacity of 90 million passenger by 2020.
The new Al Maktoum International Airport is an attempt to hold Dubai's edge in the market.
"There is a lot of pressure to get the airport running," Griffiths said. "Its ambition is to be the world's largest airport and the world's largest hub."
Dubai's pivotal location on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula makes it a gateway from Europe to the east, said Josef Varadi, CEO of the privately-owned Hungarian Wizz Air. His company's passenger flight was the first to arrive at the new airport.
The airport has been open since 2010 to cargo flights. Around 36 freight operators regularly operate at the airport.
However, with just three agreements signed with passenger airlines, DWC still has miles to go before it rivals other destinations.
DWC does not offer connection flights for transfer passengers yet. Construction of the airport's mega terminal is well behind schedule following the 2009 financial crisis. It is also tricky for passengers to travel to or from the sole working terminal without a car since the city's mass transit stops well before the airport.
Griffiths said there are plans being drafted for the airport by 2025 to accommodate the needs of Emirates, the Middle East's biggest airline. It currently bases out of Dubai International Airport.
He declined to say what kind of incentives were being offered to airlines to lure them to DWC. He said the city-state's landing fees are already considerably low compared to other airports around the world.
Griffiths also said there are no plans in place to close Dubai International Airport, but that ultimately the decision will be determined by air-space capacity.
"That's not a decision we have to make probably for the next 30 to 40 years," he said.