2nd Busiest Airport After US Hartsfield-Jackson, Dubai Expands Infra, Aims To Host 260 Million Passengers

Already home to the world’s busiest airport for international travel, Dubai is now planning to expand its newest airport, ‘Dubai World Central—Al Maktoum International (DWC),’ with an anticipated passenger capacity of 260 million.

Currently, the Dubai International Airport (DXB) remains the World’s Busiest International Airport in April 2024 with 4.9 million seats. Dubai, however, is vying for bigger and better operations.

In a recent development, the government of Dubai approved a plan to build a new passenger terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport for 128 billion dirhams ($35 billion), which will make it the largest passenger terminal in the world and five times larger than Dubai’s major international airport.

Since its opening 14 years ago, DWC—Al Maktoum International Airport has been slated to become the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger handling, albeit with little success over the years. The airport is about 20 miles southwest of downtown Dubai, and the plans to expand capacity are likely to finally take shape.

The mega hub will eventually be able to handle 260 million people annually, according to current plans. That would exceed the operations of almost every airport on the planet and be a full 100 million passengers greater than previous forecasts for the airport.

File:Emirates Boeing 777 fleet at Dubai International Airport Wedelstaedt.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Emirates Boeing 777 fleet at Dubai International Airport – Wikimedia Commons

For perspective, the entire population of the United States of America stands at about 332 million as of 2021 whereas that of countries like Canada, the UK, France, and Germany are much lower than the 100-million mark.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, said, “It will be five times the size of the current Dubai International Airport, and all operations at Dubai International Airport will be transferred to it in the coming years…The airport will accommodate 400 aircraft gates and feature five parallel runways.”

After Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, Dubai International Airport handled the second-highest passenger traffic in the world in 2023 (domestic + international). The traffic of the Dubai International Airport will be shifted to the new planned airport.

The announcement featured computer-generated visuals of a white terminal that curved and resembled the classic Bedouin tents found on the Arabian Peninsula.

The airport, like Dubai International Airport, currently has just two runways. The airport aspires to carry 12 million tons of cargo annually in addition to its anticipated capacity of 260 million people. According to the CEO of Emirates, the “first phase” of the project should be completed in ten years and able to handle 150 million passengers a year.

Passenger Footfalls Augur Well For Al Maktoum Airport

Earlier this year, Dubai announced its best tourism numbers in several years—especially after the downside experience of the coronavirus pandemic and an economic slump induced by it. When those passenger counts surged, it put further strain on DXB’s capacity, which is still surrounded by residential areas and two major highways.

The plans to expand Al-Maktoum have been around for a while, and the surge in passengers may have expedited work on what was previously a mere idea.

File: Renderings of the future Al Maktoum.

Al Maktoum Airport opened more than a decade ago in 2010 with just one terminal. During the pandemic, it was used as a parking lot for Emirates’ double-decker Airbus A380s and other planes. In the intervening years, it has gradually come back to life with cargo and private flights. It boasts a huge, vacant desert that might be expanded upon.

It has since established itself as a hub for aviation maintenance, repair, and overhaul, or “MRO,” as it is known in the business. Along with handling executive jets and some charter flights, it also serves several air cargo carriers, such as Emirates Cargo, the freight division of the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates. However, the only scheduled passenger services available are those offered by a small number of low-cost airlines, most of which fly to Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.


The airport also hosts the biennial Dubai Air Show, which has garnered significant attention in recent years. The latest, cutting-edge aircraft touch down at this airport, overlooking a scenic desert view to showcase their capabilities and attract buyers.

Situated on a 145 sq km (56 sq miles) area of desert just south of Dubai, the airport will serve as the hub of a much larger project known as Dubai South and has essentially earned the moniker of  ‘airport for the future’ by the Dubai administration.

This new district, the first portions of which are beginning to take shape, will consist of eight neighborhoods, each designated for a particular industry or activity and a combination of commercial and residential spaces.

“As we build an entire city around the airport in Dubai South, demand for housing for a million people will follow,” Dubai’s ruler said. “It will host the world’s leading companies in the logistics and air transport sectors.”

The airport would be at the southernmost point of the UAE’s opulent economic hub, Dubai South. Given that Dubai’s present main international airport is located at the northernmost point of the emirate, once the new travel hub is fully operational, traffic patterns and traveler plans are anticipated to undergo significant changes.