Dubai World Central Airport Expansion Frozen

Filed Under: Emirates

It looks like Dubai’s new mega airport, intended to handle up to 260 million passengers per year and to be the new home of Emirates, won’t be happening anytime soon.

What Is Dubai World Central Airport?

Dubai International Airport already consistently ranks as one of the busiest airports in the world, and in 2018 the airport handled nearly 90 million passengers. This is largely thanks to Emirates’ route network, which has made Dubai a global hub.

Dubai has had bigger aspirations than this, though. Even though Abu Dhabi is just down the “road,” Dubai has a second airport, which they’ve been working on expanding exponentially. Dubai’s Al Maktoum Airport (also known as Dubai World Central) was supposed to eventually replace Dubai International Airport.

The airport has been open since 2013, though has had very limited traffic. There are under a dozen commercial airlines offering service there. Currently the airport has the capacity to handle 26.5 million passengers per year, though last year saw under a million passengers.

In addition to limited passenger service, the airport does see quite a few cargo planes.

The plan all along has been that eventually Emirates will switch their operations to Al Maktoum Airport. That’s because it’s designed to be one of the world’s biggest, with a capacity of more than 250 million passengers per year.

Dubai World Central’s Expansion Delayed (Again)

It’s now being reported that expansion on Dubai World Central has been halted until further notice. At this point the completion of the first phase of the airport (which would allow them to accommodate 130 million passengers) has been pushed back to at least 2030, though even that is optimistic.

This development comes after 2018 was the slowest year for growth in the UAE since 2010. Then again, EXPO 2020 is happening in Dubai, though I guess we’ll see how successful that is.

I remember going back several years the plan was for Dubai World Central to be Emirates’ new home by the early 2020s, though now we’re looking at least a decade delay, and even that is optimistic.

What This Means For Emirates & Etihad

For years there have been rumors of Emirates and Etihad merging. While I think it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon and there hasn’t been anything definitive in that regard, the idea is that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are so close to one another, so it doesn’t make sense to have two global hubs a short drive apart. That’s especially true when you look at how much money Etihad has been losing.

In many ways the speculation has been that Dubai World Central would eventually become not only the home of Emirates, but maybe eventually the home of a combined Emirates and Etihad. Why? Not only because of the capacity, but also become of the geography.

As you can see below, Dubai World Central is located between Dubai International and Abu Dhabi International — while still closer to Dubai, it’s much closer to Abu Dhabi than the old airport (Dubai International is ~130km from Abu Dhabi International, while Dubai World Central is ~90km from Abu Dhabi International).

I do think it’s important to acknowledge that the reasons Emirates & Etihad don’t merge go way beyond geography. There’s a lot of politics involved too, given the different ruling families of the two emirates. However, as time passes and the financial situation keeps changing, it’s also possible that Dubai and Abu Dhabi will come to their senses and realize the value in working together.

Bottom Line

Don’t expect Dubai World Central to replace Dubai International Airport any time in the next decade. Frankly I’m skeptical that it will ever happen, for that matter.

I guess it all depends on your outlook on Dubai as a global hub. That’s true both in terms of the importance of Dubai as a business hub, and also in terms of the importance of Dubai as a travel hub.

With us increasingly seeing ultra long range planes that are lower capacity, arguably the value of Emirates as a global hub decreases, at least in the premium sector (for example, right now a lot of people fly Emirates from Sydney to Dubai to London, but in a few years there’s expected to be a nonstop flight).

Do you think Dubai World Central will ever be Dubai’s primary airport, with a capacity of 130+ million passengers per year?

  1. Is it just me or does it look like Dubai is going through a serious recession?
    I know a lot of white collar worker who left the city over the past few years due to lack of opportunities and the overall laziness around.

    Falsely branded as a tax free paradise they mentioned the plethora of hidden fees on so many aspects of daily life there.

    Any insider has some info?

    It looks like they have put all their chips on the Dubai Expo 2020 although very few people outside Dubai really care about the event or heard about the event.

  2. Abu Dhabi’s midfield terminal is also many years late, clearly being put on hold although not officially.

  3. @Stanley, I only have one data point, but I have a brother who is a teacher and has worked in several countries around the globe. He went to Abu Dhabi to teach for 3 years and ended up leaving early after just 2 years because he hated it so much. Dealing with anyone in the government was mind-numbing because those jobs are all given to locals as a way of rewarding them for being local, but they weren’t expected to actually do any valuable work, it was merely an entitlement. His students were also Emirati and largely lazy and entitled too and it was too frustrating trying to teach kids who didn’t want to learn because they had money and that’s all they cared about.

  4. The Emirates are being mindful of their ambitions. This is good, because it corrects the market. For years now they’ve been in the business of growth at all costs, from the failed Masdar City to Dubai World Central, they seem to have forgotten to add value and that throwing money at the problem just won’t cut it anymore. Is there any value to add? They seem to have been trying to replicate the success of Singapore as a travel and business hub, except of course Singapore has had a fair bit of history and tradition of which they are proud. The tallest building in the world and a Ferrari theme park will entertain you on a trip, but it’s not enough to get you to keep coming back and bring your friends/family next time.

  5. I have also been amazed at the laziness and lack of experience/merit/knowledge of many of the locals who have been put at the top of several firms and organizations just because of their family name.

    So many clueless chairman/chairperson/excellency who do very little work. You realize after some experience that the people who do the work are usually Lebanese or with a British or Indian (educated in the west) background.

    9 out 10 decision makers you meet at conferences keep their words/promises on the next steps to launch a project.

    There is a big difference in work ethics and merits when you compare this city with Singapore or Hong Kong where hustlers can make it.

  6. Why would them “coming to their senses” mean they’d merge/work together?

    Emirates flies virtually everywhere Etihad does (and none of the places they don’t are particularly important) and is profitable. What possible reason could they have for merging with loss making Etihad, giving a stake of their pride and joy to a rival royal family?

    The only way I can see that happening is if Dubai starts going down the pan again and has to be bailed out by Abu Dhabi.

  7. I have been to Dubai many, many times (like a lot of others) and it has never ceased to amaze me what the fascination is with the place. It is expensive, it is soulless, its not really a tax free place with the numerous charges, its clinical and they try to show they are western but the underlying fact is they’re not. It’s all bling.

  8. I was there last year and there were so many half-finished projects. Most of the skyscrapers had few tenants. Not to mention all the “coming soon” billboards with no sign of anything coming anytime soon.

    I feel like the UAE has overextended itself. Dubai felt almost hollow inside. Pretty outside with very little substance.

  9. Like @ crosscourt, I have been to Dubai (not in transit) 80-plus times since 2003 and have even seen complex highway interchanges completely demolished because somebody re-drew the map and I’ve seen substantially completed office towers demolished because again, a planner’s new pencil line took an on-ramp straight through the buildings. I saw the wholesale abandonment of residential towers under construction during GFC when just some of the massive volumes of Russian/Mid-East funny money dried-up. I saw DWC complete pax terminals mothballed as completed (the current spat with Qatar soon killed a reasonable amount of traffic). But I’ve also seen a sophisticated metro system built from scratch in about 24months and a willingness to push the envelope on architectural, design and building systems. As for work habits and lazy kids, I have encountered a LOT of civil servants around the world who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance (USPS, US Immigration officers….) and many ex-pat teachers will tell you that expat Dubai Brats are the hardest to teach.
    There’s no doubt that UAE (& Qatar) have shown what air travel IS capable of delivering to passengers, as opposed the the US carriers with their ‘sit down & shut up’ flying Grayhound bus approach.
    It’s not my money that’s been/being wasted on Dubai/Abu Dhabi vanity projects and in the end, whatever the UAE achieves is eclipsing the broken regional basket cases (Cairo, Damascus, Beiruit, etc.). And in all the time spent there I have never had anyone’s religion shoved down my throat, never been denied access/entry based on my faith or ethnicity, but I have been aghast at the blatant over-exposure of some western/Russian/Slavic women public places that would make shoppers at Walmart blush.
    On balance, I think the UAE deserves considerable respect; if someone doesn’t like it, then don’t go.

  10. Dubai is the next Atlantic City, only morons would invest a declining city.
    Without money, Dubai is just another Detroit.

  11. all those WBs and VLAs make for a lot of hot air…
    interesting architecture sometimes, but a totally artificial country in everyway : just Hell.

  12. Just out of interest a couple of people have mentioned all these extra ‘fees’ for expats living there – what kind of things are they?

  13. I am an American professional living in Dubai for the last 5 years. While the UAE has its problems, much of the negative commentary above is simply incorrect. Specifically:

    Excessive fees – compared to living in the US/UK, or almost anywhere else, the UAE is essentially tax free. There is no income tax. Repeat – there is no income tax. As far as fees, there is a 5% surcharge on your annual rent (much less than US RE tax), 5% VAT (much less than some states sales tax), and various administrative fees (vehicle registration, visa, etc. collectively adding up to not much more than a few $100 per year). By contrast, living in the states you can easily pay around 40% in income and SS tax, before even considering RE tax, sales tax, etc. So, the UAE is a great deal compared to the US and probably all of Europe.

    Cost of living – Dubai is a big city and is therefore not cheap. Still, there is value here if you look. Lots of bargains, and the cost of most food items and other living essentials is similar to the NY area (not NYC which is still much higher). For example, I live in a large apartment in the Dubai Marina, considered a desirable location, and could not even think about sniffing a similar apt in many US urban centers. I take the metro to work every day, and it is clean, efficient, and rarely (in my experience, never) has any problems; the cost is 5 dirhams (that is equal to $1.35) for my 10 mile trip, although its a zonal system so end to end it more expensive, but so much less than most cities.

    Soulless – yeah, if you are just passing through. The city is mostly new, so understandably there are no old style institutions (ie: impressive 150 year old museums with columned facades) of the type that one assumes to give a place its “soul” like you find in most older established cities. However, live here a bit and you find your comfort zone with like minded persons. Arts, theater, social clubs, sporting clubs, religious (yes, you read that correctly) groups all exist, and people do their thing without interference, as long as you have commons sense discretion.

    As for a recession, yep, there are definitely economic problems, but that is true world wide. What has happened is the break neck growth has slowed. However, the government has enacted many reforms to encourage foreign investment (not to get too into the weeds, but a modern Bankruptcy law and FDI law) all of which have increased international investment.

    As far as “lazy people” go, my co-workers and I from all over the world generally work hard as do most of the other people we come into contact with. Truth is, there are lazy and entitled people everywhere.

  14. I also think that DWC would be a horrible airport for locals. I get that Emirates heavily relies on connecting traffic but for anyone that flies in or out of Dubai, it is a way longer drive than DXB since DXB is in the middle of the city and DWC in the middle of the desert.

  15. There used to be several flights a day with Qatar Airways through DWC.
    It’s a shame about the nonsense blockade of Qatar.

  16. As someone said Dubai is great to see for one two trips. But after that never again. Bling bling, superficial, disconnected from reality. A desert illusion. Locals are as described above. Laws are ultra strict. People I know who love Dubai are usually expats in top positions racking hefty amounts of tax free money. Hoping one day to spend it back home. So if money making is your main trip go there but other alternatives are easy to find.

  17. I echo what @barry said. People who call Dubai “soulless” are probably those that connect for 8 hours, walk around a bit and then get a negative impression of the city.

    Dubai is one the most international cities in the world, it’s beautiful, you have a plethora of things available, top notch shopping, incredible food, beautiful 5 star hotels, magnificent beaches & desert, diversity of people and cultures, museums, attractions, etc.

    It’s definitely a city you can return over and over again on vacation with friends, family, for work, a quick stop, or whatever you may need. I’ve spent two weeks vacation with family there and am planning a one week birthday getaway with a group of friends. There’s MUCH more to Dubai than the malls and “bling”. If you don’t realize that, you should spend more time there.

  18. @schar How do you want anyone to take you seriously when you just wrote “I’ve spent two weeks vacation with family there”? The opinion here are expressed by folks who lived and worked there.

  19. I think one of the main reasons for getting DWC open quickly was because of Dubai’s reputation when it comes to big infrastructure projects. Remember the Palm Islands and Palm Jumeirah is the only completed one of three (seriously Google Palm Deira it’s insane what they were planning). Add to that the Dubai Creek tower which is supposed to be 1300 metres tall but has gone nowhere since early 2017.

    So we can now add DWC to the increasingly long list of flashy infrastructure projects in Dubai that started with a bang before quietly folding out of existence several years later.

  20. This place is certainly not tax free. The salaries here are paid as if already taxed. The Middle East used to have ultra competitive salaries, not anymore when you add up all the sacrifices.
    The architecture is modern and excessive and wouldn’t be cost effective outside the Middle East because labour laws exist. Here it is just modern day slavery and the labour is cheap.
    This place is smoke and mirrors and definitely seems like it is going to have a big correction after years of frivolous spending. I give it 10years and we will see Ferrari’s parked up and they’ll be back to camels.

  21. @Julia perhaps i forgot to mention my brother lived and worked there for 6 years, so I know what I’m talking about. I only went as a visitor, but combining his account of his experience with what I personally saw gives my opinion some basis for you to “take it seriously”. 😉

  22. Some unfair comments on the UAE above. They need to be given credit, the citizens there are unbelievably talented and visionary. They will soon send an astronaut to space, effectively achieving something within a mere 50 years of existence, something that took the western world more than 150 years.
    The leadership is efficient and amazing, i read they have a Ministry of Happiness which works to make residents happy, when was the last time a western country tried to make their people happy? All we see is political infighting and parliamentary deadlock
    As for cheap labour, i am told that salaries in India and other Asian countries are so low that the workers actually get 10 to 20 times more than what they would back home. Not optimal, but that is how the world works. And it is tax free, for them, and for higher paid expats.

  23. DWC was an easy way to travel from Europe to Dubai via DOH and Qatar Airways. The longer distance to downtown Dubai was egalized by the much shorter ways at the Airport. It took 15 easy Minutes from the plane to the Taxi and from the Taxi into the lounge. But QR is no longer welcome in Dubai, so it‘s no longer interesting to travel via DWC. It will take years for the city of Dubai to grow closer to DWC and a Metro is missing, too.

  24. Ultra Long Haul will always be more expensive than long haul using a hub, and will therefore remain a niche product. For example, I really don’t see the ME3 losing out on loads of Europe-Australia traffic because of the odd Sydney – LHR / FRA flight.

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