February 11, 2013
Credit: Credit: Dubai Airports
With the move to the new Al-Makhtoum International Airport still far in the future, Dubai International is struggling to accommodate the escalating amount of traffic. The goal of allowing unlimited growth is at risk.
The airport has just opened what is now called Concourse A, a 20-gate facility to be exclusively used by Emirates. That will take the airport's capacity to 75 million passengers annually. In addition, initial work has been started for Concourse D, another large terminal which will bring the airport's capacity to around 90 million passengers. While these numbers look impressive, it is already clear that the Emirates home base will reach the limit of its envisioned design capacity well before 2020. And another issue needs urgent attention: Terminals may be relatively easy to add, but runways present a far more convoluted and difficult challenge.
Dubai International was used by 57 million passengers in 2012, and operator Dubai Airports expects this number to rise to 66 million this year.
The airport has two parallel runways, which are staggered somewhat, but cannot be used independently. The field is currently at a maximum capacity of 65 movements per hour—about half of what Paris and Frankfurt can handle. But with Dubai's traffic being predominantly widebody operations and the average aircraft size much larger, the airport can take the same number of passengers with much fewer movements. Emirates does not operate narrowbodies, although low-fare airline FlyDubai is rapidly increasing its Boeing 737 fleet.
On the other hand, the share of Airbus A380 traffic is growing significantly. Emirates currently has a fleet of 31 A380s, but an additional 59 are yet to be delivered. And Emirates President Tim Clark has made it clear that he sees markets for around 30 more, provided the home airport can find ways to accommodate them. The additional spacing between A380s and other aircraft could be a further burden to runway capacity.
According to a July 2008 State Letter, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends 2 mi. of additional spacing for aircraft that follow A380s. For jets falling into the heavy category that would lead to a separation of 6 mi., however Dubai already assumes 5 mi. to get to the current design maximum.
“Our aim is to go above 65 movements,” Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths tells Aviation Week. But whether and when that is achievable depends on a number of factors. Because of the airport's layout, parallel approaches and takeoffs are not possible, although Griffiths is hoping that sequenced parallel operations will soon become feasible.