Dubai’s ambition really is breathtaking. This tiny desert state, little more than a fishing village in the 1960s before it discoved oil in 1966, is running out of it fast, and is spending like there is no tomorrow.
The Piers Morgan in Dubai documentary aired on ITV1 last night provided an insight into the extravagance and opulence that has made it internationally famous. Construction projects like Palm Island , the Burj Al Arab and the new Burj Dubai Tower are so expensive they seem at first to be madness, but have grabbed international attention so successfully they could be considered genius. They are right to spend, as when there is no more oil, Dubai will have been turned into one of the most spectacular holiday playgrounds on the planet, which is not a bad fall back position.
There is one project though, that is gaining scant attention – one that ought to have European Governments quaking in their boots. It is the construction of the Al Maktoum International Airport. Planned as the world’s largest passenger and cargo hub, it will be 10 times the size of the current airport, and will be integrated in a residential and manufacturing complex called Dubai World Central that will serve every conceivable commercial and travelling desire. If completed as planned it will carry three times as much cargo as the world’s busiest cargo airport (currently Memphis International), and 30% more passenger capacity than the current busiest airport (currently Atlanta in the US).
With six parallel runways nearly 3 miles long allowing 4 simultaneous landings or take offs 24 hours a day, it promises to be incredibly efficient, especially with Dubai’s predictable weather. With 3 state of the art passenger terminals equipped for Airbus A380s and other new generation aircraft as well as a massive 16 cargo terminals, integrated transport and distribution networks, Dubai is aiming to take a huge chunk of cargo and transit passenger trade away from the likes of Heathrow, Amsterdam, Paris, Fankfurt and Madrid. And all this while Heathrow squabbles over eking out space for a possible third runway, let alone a fourth, fifth or sixth.
If fortune favours the brave then Dubai will manage it too. It is perfectly placed to intercept air traffic between Europe, the US and Asia, Australia and Africa. Calling it Dubai World Central is not an ill thought out name – it really could happen. The impact on the current hub airports in Europe when it becomes operational can at the moment only be guessed at. The three things Dubai has going for it right now are lots of space, lots of money, and crucially, unlimited ambition. It wants to be considered the centre of the world within the next decade, and with the cash spend on this new airport pushing an estimated $80 billion (four times the price of Chep Lak Kok Airport in Hong Kong), who’s to stop them?
The picture isn’t all rosy though. As the global downturn has spread, expats with serious debts have been heading home. Dubai police have found over 3000 high spec vehicles dumped at the airport in the last few months as their owners throw in the towel and head back. As banks in Dubai are not affiliated to UK banks, they leave their debts behind them. It will be interesting to see if Dubai can carry on regardless of the recession.
It certainly seems determined to do just that.
“Do just once what others say you cannot do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again”.
Captain James Cook (1728-79)
How high is the Burj Dubai? Currently around 880m, but the final height is known only to the architects.
Where there is a new highest building in the world there are always people who want to parachute off it. If you have the inclination and a few minutes to spare you can watch them here .