A tale of two airports
01 / 07 / 2015
Last year was a milestone for the Dubai airports. In January that year, Dubai International (DXB) took over from London Heathrow as the busiest airport in the world for international passengers, a title it looks likely to hold on to.
In May, all non-express freighter operations were transferred from DXB to neighbouring Dubai World Central (aka Al Maktoum Inter-national Airport).
DWC, which has been open for cargo since 2010 and passengers since 2013, also had a first hint of its future as Dubai’s main international hub during 2014, when one runway at DXB was closed for maintenance from May 1 to July 20.
During this time a number of passenger flights were transferred to the new airport.
The shift of freighter operations and the runway closure contributed to a 3.1% fall in cargo tonnage at DXB during the year, reducing it to 2.3m tonnes.
There was a similar drop in the first quarter of 2015. By contrast, cargo traffic at DWC grew 256% to 519,851 tonnes during 2014, and by 177% year on year to 213,006 tonnes in the first quarter of 2015, a performance good enough to propel it into the top twenty cargo airports in the world.
But to assume that cargo traffic will henceforth decline at DXB while it grows at DWC would be a bit simplistic.
Bernd Struck, senior vice president cargo UAE for dnata, the Dubai ground handler, points to such carriers as IAG, Martinair/KLM and Cathay reducing freighter operations, while the IATA forecast for cargo growth in the region is 2.5% to 4.5%.
That suggests there could be a good deal more belly cargo growth to come and for the next decade that will largely be accommodated at DXB.
Dnata is, in fact, planning on the assumption that it will be handling 50% more volume at DXB in ten years’ time, and – as so often in the airport’s history – that could be a bit of a squeeze.
That might sound a bit surprising, given all the freighter operations that have switched to DWC, but in fact the rampant growth of Emirates is ensuring that DXB cargo facilities also remain fully utilised.
To accommodate this growth, dnata handed its original Dubai cargo facility – the Dubai Cargo Village as it used to be known – over to Emirates in 2013 to supplement its existing Megaterminal.
The carrier is currently re-configuring the terminal and will reopen it later this year.
Emirates thus has all the major facilities on the south side of the airport, while dnata handles third party carriers out of the three facilities it has on the north side, in the Dubai Airport Freezone.
These northern facilities were already pretty full in 2013 and so, in the two years since, dnata has been implementing a number of initiatives to improve efficiency, including streamlining handling pro-cesses, installing extra material handling systems, speeding up truck processing, and developing IT functionality. For the first time it has also split operations between import and export.
In addition, dnata operates the 150,000 tonne per annum courier centre on the south side of the airport and uses the 250,000 tonne former Dubai Flower Centre as a facility to handle food imports. Adding that to the 400,000 tonnes of its three north side facilities, Struck is confident that it has the capacity to meet growth over the next decade.
After this things will start to change. In September 2014, the Dubai government announced a $32bn masterplan for developing DWC into Dubai’s main hub.
Two new passenger terminals are to be built to supplement the existing one, each capable of dealing with 100 A380s.
These will be completed by the mid-2020s and enable Emirates to move its passenger hub to DWC. Whether DXB will then close has not been specified, but the eventual plan is for DWC to be a five runway hub, as big as Atlanta is today.
Emirates is already getting used to having its freighters at the airport and, as at DXB, has its own cargo facility at the airport, though with ramp handling provided by dnata.
For other freighter operators dnata operates a facility, whose capacity has recently been upgraded to 400,000 tonnes per annum by the addition of an Elevating Transfer Vehicle system.
Planning is also underway for the next dnata facility, which is due to open in the first quarter of 2018.
Struck says it will initially be configured to cope with 200,000-300,000 tonnes but will ultimately be able to handle 800,000 tonnes.
That will give dnata 1.2m tonnes of capacity at DWC within ten years.
Freighter movements at DWC are now about 200 a week, of which half are accounted for by Emirates. It is adding another 777F shortly, but third party airlines have also been increasing operations.
On April 1, China Airlines made DWC its Middle Eastern freighter hub, switching traffic from Abu Dhabi, and Malaysian Airlines has also moved freighter calls to the airport, from Baku and Bahrain.
Struck says that the presence of many new forwarder facilities in DWC (in Dubai Logistics City) is a particular draw.
“We see new forwarder warehouses opening on a more or less daily basis,” he says.
“The Dubai government has made lots of efforts to provide facilities and easy connectivity for them.
“Just recently, Customs opened a virtual corridor for seafreight to both airports, not just from the Jebel Ali Freezone but for seafreight arrivals that have nothing to do with Jebel Ali.
”Struck also says that road feeder services are continuing to develop. Customs issues still prevent effective feeders from Saudi Arabia and beyond – a big potential market – but are increasing within the UAE and, to a limited extent, to Oman.
“Etihad now trucks daily from Abu Dhabi and has some charter flights to DWC,” he says. Overall, the airport gets 15-20 charter flights a week from various carriers.
The use of the airport as a regional distribution hub is growing too. For example, it is used for launches of new models of mobile phones.
“We can make use of our time difference to deliver to Hong Kong while they are still asleep,” says Struck.
Dnata obviously continues to try to attract other freighter operators to the airport, and one service it offers here is a complete package for carriers that don’t want to have their own personnel in Dubai.
“We can provide them with station management and the complete range of services,” says Struck.
For forwarders it offers transport from their DLC warehouses and direct delivery to customers if required.
New freighter customers apart, the next big boost to DWC will come in October 2017 when the integrators will be required to relocate from DWC. Currently, operators such as FedEx and DHL still fly 10-15 flights a day into DXB.
DWC also has a small number of passenger flights, both charter and scheduled. Passenger numbers were 143,374 in the first quarter, up 40% on the previous year.
These are all regional flights but some – for example services operated by Gulf Air and Qatar Airways – are widebodies, carrying connecting cargo.
FlyDubai, a low cost airline operating 47 B737s and with 75 on order, is also scheduled to base some aircraft at DWC during 2015, probably from the winter schedule.
Despite being narrowbody services, Struck does expect these to carry some cargo.