UAE Airports: Setting Sky-High Standards

Substantial investments in major airports will drive tourism and GDP growth

By Muzaffar Rizvi

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The emirate’s airports are expanding in a fast-forward mode to welcome an estimated 140 million passengers this year compared to 134 million in 2023.
The emirate’s airports are expanding in a fast-forward mode to welcome an estimated 140 million passengers this year compared to 134 million in 2023.

Published: Fri 3 May 2024, 2:06 PM

THE UAE is known for its thriving aviation industry, with some of the busiest airports in the world serving millions of passengers every year. The government accords priority to expand major airports of the country to handle a big boom in air travel until 2030 by investing in aviation infrastructure and services.

The emirate’s airports are expanding in a fast-forward mode to welcome an estimated 140 million passengers this year compared to 134 million in 2023. It has become a hub for aviation investment, attracting local and international investors looking to capitalise on the industry's growth potential.


The UAE, which aims to host 40 million visitors by 2031, is implementing a multi-billion dollar airport development and expansion project that will help the airports to handle more than 300 million passengers annually. The emirate has also outlined plans to build new airports and expand existing ones to stay competitive as a global aviation hub.

The expansion of airports is very important for the strategically located UAE as Abu Dhabi and Dubai remain popular destination for final and connecting flights. Both the cities, are known for their tourist attractions and worldwide connectivity to airports on six continents, have established as prominent business and leisure travel destination as passengers are eager to fly on Emirates and Etihad through Dubai and Abu Dhabi, respectively.


INVESTMENT IN AIRPORTS

After the inauguration of Terminal A, Zayed International Airport is now able to handle 45 million passenger annually. The airport’s capacity will increase to 65 million passengers in the second phase of expansion.

The current capacity of Dubai International can reach up to 100 million passengers, and, with ongoing improvement work since 2016, the airport’s capacity can reach up to around 120 million passengers.
The current capacity of Dubai International can reach up to 100 million passengers, and, with ongoing improvement work since 2016, the airport’s capacity can reach up to around 120 million passengers.

Another high-profile investment projects in the UAE's aviation sector is the expansion of Dubai International Airport, which is the world’s busiest airports . The airport has been undergoing a multi-billion dollar expansion project to increase its capacity and accommodate the growing number of passengers passing through its terminals.

The current capacity of Dubai International can reach up to 100 million passengers, and, with ongoing improvement work since 2016, the airport’s capacity can reach up to around 120 million passengers. The airport, which handled 86.9 million passengers last year, is on track to surpass its all-time high mark of 89.1 million in 2018. It is expected to receive 88.8 million passengers this year and 93.8 million guests in 2025.

In addition, Al Maktoum International Airport is also part of the expansion project. Upon completion, it is anticipated to be bigger than Dubai International with 250 million passenger capacity. Currently, it handles only a portion of Dubai’s passenger traffic, cargo and private aircraft flights.

After the inauguration of Terminal A, Zayed International Airport is now able to handle 45 million passenger annually. The airport’s capacity will increase to 65 million passengers in the second phase of expansion.
After the inauguration of Terminal A, Zayed International Airport is now able to handle 45 million passenger annually. The airport’s capacity will increase to 65 million passengers in the second phase of expansion.

In addition to Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports, Sharjah International Airport has also been expanding and upgrading its facilities and services to keep pace with the increasing demand for air travel, as well as to attract more airlines and passengers to its terminals. It is implementing a Dh1.2 billion terminal expansion that will increase the airport’s capacity to 20 million passengers a year. The expansion project will separate the arrivals from departures areas and enhance its systems and amenities. It is the largest phase of expansion work being undertaken at a total cost of Dh2.4 billion and is expected to be completed in 2027. Improvements at the airport will include additional self-check-in kiosks, electronic boarding gates, a spacious waiting zone, dinning facilities, and a transit passenger hotel.

Sharjah International Airport is home of the Middle East and North Africa region’s largest low-cost carrier Air Arabia and it added six new passenger destinations and three air cargo routes in 2023. The airport handled about 13.1 million passengers in 2022 and will be able to handle up to 25 million passengers by 2026.

DIVERSE DESTINATIONS

Aviation experts and analysts are of the view that expansion and redevelopment of the major airports will enable the UAE airlines to operate more flights to diverse destinations across the world. Referring to Dubai International, they said the airport is connected to more than 250 destinations across 104 countries through 95 international airlines. The enhancements in capacity and service levels over the coming 10 years have been necessitated as it home base carriers ordered another 120 aircraft — 90 Boeing 777s dor Emirates and 30 Boeing 787 for flydubai.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director-General of the General Civil Aviation Authority, recently underscored the UAE’s robust aviation sector, boasting over 521 aircraft belonging to national carriers and a total of 924 registered aircraft in the country. He also noted that over 22,000 unmanned aerial vehicles for amateurs are also registered with the authority.

Sharjah International Airport is home of the Middle East and North Africa region’s largest low-cost carrier Air Arabia and it added six new passenger destinations and three air cargo routes in 2023.
Sharjah International Airport is home of the Middle East and North Africa region’s largest low-cost carrier Air Arabia and it added six new passenger destinations and three air cargo routes in 2023.

Experts said investment in UAE airports has been on the rise in recent years, driven by a combination of factors including the country's strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, its robust economy, and its commitment to infrastructure development.

“The UAE government has also been proactive in promoting the aviation sector as a key driver of economic growth, with ambitious plans to expand and upgrade its airport facilities to meet the increasing demand for air travel,” they added.

ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY

Investment in UAE airports has not been limited to infrastructure projects as the country has also been investing in technology and innovation to enhance the efficiency and safety of its aviation industry.

For example, the UAE has been a pioneer in the development and adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for various applications, including surveillance, cargo delivery, and passenger transport.

The country has also been exploring the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology to streamline airport operations, improve security and serve passengers. A plan is also on card to invest in new security scanners to allow laptops, liquids, and other objects typically needed to be removed for screening to remain inside hand luggage.

Dubai International is also experimenting a project with camera to allow for people to simply walk through an area and clear immigration without even stopping at the countries.

MIDDLE EAST AIRPORTS

The Middle East is among the fastest-growing air passenger markets, as global demand is anticipated to double by 2040. The region, with over 110 commercial airports and 69 operating carriers, are set to handle 1.1 billion passengers by 2040, more than double the 2019 figure of 405 million passengers. They will be required to invest around $151 billion in capacity expansion while global airport construction market is expected to reach $1.8 trillion by 2030.

is investing SR115 billion to transform King Abdelaziz International Airport into one of the world’s largest airports by increasing its capacity to 114 million passengers a year.
is investing SR115 billion to transform King Abdelaziz International Airport into one of the world’s largest airports by increasing its capacity to 114 million passengers a year.

Saudi Arabia is implementing a multi-billion dollar project to expand and upgrade facilities of exiting airports. It is investing SR115 billion to transform King Abdelaziz International Airport (KAIA) into one of the world’s largest airports by increasing its capacity to 114 million passengers a year. It is also building another major airport at Neom, initially with 25 million capacity in first phase, 50 million in second phase and eventually targets 100 million passengers annually. It is also investing at Jeddah International Airport, including a new hajj and umrah terminal, to accommodate up to 120 million passengers by 2030 and 185 million by 2050.

Moreover, airports in Oman are expected to witness 40 million passengers by 2030 compared to 24 million at present. While Bahrain is exploring plans to have a second airport by 2034, Kuwait is likely to expand its airport terminal capacity from six million passengers per year to 20 million by 2030.

POSITIVE OUTLOOK

Looking ahead, the outlook for investment in UAE airports and aviation remains positive, driven by several key factors. First and foremost, the continued growth of air travel in the region, fuelled by rising disposable incomes, expanding tourism industry, and increasing connectivity, is expected to drive demand for airport services and facilities. This, in turn, will create opportunities for investors to participate in the development and expansion of airport infrastructure and services.

Secondly, the UAE's strategic location in the Middle East, combined with its world-class airport facilities and services, positions it as a hub for international air travel. This presents significant opportunities for investors to tap into the country's growing aviation industry and benefit from the increasing volume of passengers transiting through its airports.

In conclusion, investment in UAE airports and aviation presents an attractive opportunity for investors looking to capitalise on the region's booming air travel industry. With ambitious expansion plans, state-of-the-art facilities, and a strong commitment to innovation, the UAE is a global leader in aviation and a magnet for investment in the years to come.

UAE AIRPORTS EXPANSION AT A GLANCE

• The UAE airports will handle 140 million passengers this year compared to 134 million in 2023

• Zayed International Airport is now able to handle 45 million passenger annually

• The current capacity of Dubai International can reach up to 120 million passengers

• Upon completion of expansion project, Al Maktoum International Airport is anticipated to be bigger than Dubai International with 250 million passenger capacity

• Sharjah International Airport will be able to handle up to 25 million passengers by 2026

— muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com


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