Gradual opening for new Dubai terminal
Dubai, May 8, 2008
Dubai said it plans to open its new $4.5 billion airport terminal gradually rather than with "a big bang" to avoid the chaos that marked the opening of Heathrow airport's Terminal 5 in March, which is 25 percent smaller.
The high-profile opening of the London facility, which can handle as many as 30 million passengers per year, turned into a public relations disaster, with hundreds of flights cancelled and tens of thousands of bags missing.
Dubai Airports chief executive officer Paul Griffiths, who runs the Middle East's busiest airport, said he planned to avoid a similar fate by treading cautiously when he opens the 40-million-passenger-capacity terminal this year.
"We'll exhaustively be testing the terminal systems throughout the summer. We'll put a few flights in bit by bit, in waves rather than a big bang," he told Reuters in an interview.
Griffiths said there was no specific opening day for the new terminal but rather a gradual process, a strategy which has worked for other airports around the world. Construction of the terminal was due to be finished as early as 2006.
"A common thread through all of them is that the successful openings have been done softly," he said.
The new terminal will enable Dubai to more than double capacity at the airport to 65 million people per year, from 25 million now, though the airport handled 34 million people in 2007.
"The terminal has not been hit by the recent escalation of material costs because we bought them a while back," Griffiths said. "Our worry is for future developments. We have bought the steel for concourse three but our worry is for future materials we may have to buy.
Gulf Arab economies are surging on a nearly six-fold increase in oil prices since 2002, with billions being poured into developing airport infrastructure to cater to increasing business and tourism traffic. Dubai alone is spending $33 billion on airport facilities.
One of those facilities is a new airport on the outskirts of Dubai which, when it is fully operational is expected to handle 120 million passengers a year. The entire project will cost $35 billion, with $10 billion earmarked for the airport alone.
"The opening of the first runway (at Jebel Ali) will be when the license is issued, which will be by the end of this year or early next year," Griffiths said. Despite the creation of new capacity to handle traffic in the wealthy trade and tourism hub, Griffiths said there was still a dearth of air space.
Griffiths said air space is still very restricted. "There needs to be a major initiative in increasing airspace," he said. "They need to make sure this becomes a regional issue." - Reuters
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