Hub development key to Gulf carrier strategies

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The development of their international airport hubs is central to the Gulf's three global network carriers' strategy, but plans have not been running entirely smoothly.

Emirates' Dubai International airport base is the region's biggest hub, handling more than 37 million passengers in 2008, and during the past year had the "seamless opening" of its new C3 terminal, says the airline's president Tim Clark. He points out that the Emirates facility is "twice the size of London Heathrow's Terminal 5" and adds that the airline's new "C4" concourse will open in September 2012.

However, the global recession has taken its toll on Dubai and forced the emirate to rethink plans to shift to the all-new Al Maktoum International airport at Jebel Ali. This in turn has affected the national carrier's strategy.

Emirates had been anticipating a relocation of its hub within a decade, but with the new airport's expansion, plans have been "pushed back a long way". Clark says the airline is focused on "what we can do at the existing airport".

"The strategy for Dubai International airport is being rethought; the view is we can get it to 85 million passengers a year. The master plan should be completed this year."

Clark says this is likely to affect how Emirates expands its fleet, in terms of aircraft unit size. "When we get to the absolute number of aircraft in terms of parking and contact gates, the next thing is to make the aircraft bigger."

One area that could be affected is the mix of variants specified by Emirates in its huge Airbus A350 order, which currently comprises 50 -900s and 20 -1000s. "I'm not sure that this ratio is right - we might want to go for more -1000s," says Clark.

Qatar Airways' Doha hub is bursting at the seams, as the airline waits impatiently for its new airport to open. This is due in around four years, which is later than first planned and so the old airport has been undergoing a series of stop-gap upgrades.

Doha handled 12.7 million passengers in 2008 (80% of which were transit passengers) and is expected to grow to 14 million, says Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al Baker.

The airline's premium terminal, which is just two years old, has been expanded while the airport will have a brand-new new arrivals-only terminal by the middle of next year. The existing terminal will then switch to handling only departures.

Meanwhile, the airside infrastructure has just been expanded again, with a 24-stand apron extension coming on line, says Al Baker.

In Abu Dhabi, the international airport's new $1 billion Terminal 3 became operational in April, which increases capacity by more than 5 million passengers a year, to in excess of 12 million.

The new facility is part of a $6.8 billion expansion and modernisation of Etihad Airways' hub that will see the entire operation relocating to an all-new midfield terminal in the longer term with the capacity to handle more than 20 million passengers a year.