Dubai opens door for foreign anchor

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Airport authorities in Dubai are open to having a non-home airline as the anchor carrier in the new Dubai Al-Maktoum International airport. This is a further sign of the willingness of the United Arab Emiratesto look to overseas carriers to base operations at its airports.

"It does not have to be one of our home-grown carriers," Dubai International Airportvice-president for marketing, Anita Mehra Homayoun, explained during the recent World Route Development Forum in Beijing. "It could be an Asian or European airline that feels that Dubai will be a good base to be in, and we will welcome that."

She says Dubai is an ideal location as two thirds of the globalpopulation are within an eight-hour flight and one third are within four hours of the city. This makes it attractive for carriers that are keen to operate from Dubai to other parts of the world.

While no airlines have signed up to operate from Al-Maktoum International, which is located at the port city of Jebel Ali, Homayounis confident this will happen in the next few months.

"We are offering plenty of incentives to the airlines. This is an ideal airport for point-to-point services to places like the Middle East, north and east Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the CIS," says Homayoun.

"While we do not expect many of the legacy carriers to move immediately, given that the connectivity will not initially be there, we expect that to change from 2013 and 2014, when we are confident that several of them will operate out of this airport."

Malaysian low-cost, long-haul operator AirAsia X has already unveiled plans to launch a "virtual hub" at another UAE airport, Abu Dhabi.Though AirAsia X will not base aircraft at Abu Dhabi, it plans to build on the launch of five-weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi this November by operating onward flights from the airport to other cities. It cites the liberal air services environment within the UAE as a key factor for its selection of Abu Dhabi as a virtual base.

But AirAsia Xis yet to finalise any onward connections and was busy presenting to potential destinations during Routes.

Homayoun adds that despite the current economic crisis, Al-Maktoum is on schedule to open its doors in June 2010. The new airport will initially have an annual passenger capacity of five million. It will gradually increase in size and eventually be able to handle 140 million passengers, most likely by 2020, making it the largest in the world.

This is because Dubai International Airport, which is the maingateway for the Emirate, is fast approaching full capacity. The airport has three terminals and two concourses which can handle 60 million passengersand it is home to125 airlines serving210 destinations. By 2013, the airport will have a third concourse takingits annual capacity to 75 million."The phenomenal growth of the Dubai tourism industry in general and the hospitality sector in particular proves its popularity as a preferred year-round business and leisure destination," says Homayoun.

Dubai has just revised upwards its passenger traffic forecast for next year. It now expects passenger numbers, which will grow by around three million this year to just over 40 million, to reach around 46 million in 2010. The improved outlook is driven by an improving economic picture, together with the growth of Emirates and its new budget arm FlyDubai and through the first phase of the opening of Al-Maktoum International.

"We took the traffic statistics forecast down, but we just put it up again because wewere surprised to see some positive results," says Homayoun.