Dubai straddles two giant airports

Emirates Skycargo, the cargo business of Emirates Airlines and one of the largest air cargo carriers in the world, has announced a road freight service between Dubai’s two airports; Dubai International and the new Dubai World Central, otherwise known as Al Maktoum International. This may not sound too exciting, however it illustrates the rather strange situation that is emerging around Dubai’s airports.

Opened in 2012 the vast new Dubai World Central airport is functioning at present as largely as a cargo facility. Freighter traffic has been diverted from the smaller but much busier Dubai International, the result being that belly-freight and freighter operations are split between the two airports. Consequently Emirates is having to link its operations in each airport by truck.

And the service is quite intense. Emirates has contracted a local trucking company,Allied Transport LLC, to provide a service of “approximately ten trucks per hour running between DWC and DXB during peak times, with frequency to increase over the coming years. The cargo will be moved via purpose-built truck docks at both airports to achieve quick turn-around.”

Dubai World Central handled 209,209 tonnes of air freight in 2013 which was slightly down on the 219,092 tonnes seen in 2012 which is hardly surprising in the light of the market for freighter aircraft. In contrast Dubai International handled 2.2m tonnes in 2013. Passenger services have just begun at Dubai World Central, with 65,197 using the airport over the past couple of months.

Splitting such sizeable airfreight operations in two can hardly be regarded as ideal. Nor is it the case that Emirates freighter operations are peripheral to its business as they account for 35% of Emirates Skycargo’s revenues. This appears to be a transitional arrangement with Emirates asserting that they are looking to expand volumes up to 700,000 tonnes at Dubai World Central. An outsider might suggest that the smaller and more congested airport ought to close and transfer all of its operations to the newer, larger facility but this apparently is not being considered with Dubai International looking to double traffic in the medium term.

Either airlines’ cargo operations in Dubai are going to have to cope with a distinctly suboptimal arrangement in what is becoming one of the world’s most important cargo hubs, something which could be a threat to its competitiveness or the airport authorities in Dubai are going to have to decide which airport is more important.