Dubai South Aerospace Hub Elevates Business Aviation

MBRAH master plan

Artist's depiction of the Mohammed bin Rashid Aerospace Hub master plan.

Credit: MBRAH

Dubai’s ambition to build one of its two international airports into an aerospace and logistics mega-hub includes a component focused on business aviation.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Aerospace Hub (MBRAH) is a bizav-centric district of the Dubai South “urban master development” rising up around Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) in the southern half of Dubai.

DWC opened in 2010 for cargo services, followed by passenger flights in 2013. The emirate plans to move operations from its main airport—Dubai International Airport (DXB)—to an expanded DWC in the 2030s.

Home to a VIP terminal that opened at DWC in 2016, the MBRAH already says it is the busiest private aviation “ecosystem” in the region. The hub accommodated 15,444 business jet movements (takeoffs and landings) in 2022 and expects 17,000 in 2023. Driving bizav traffic were the Dubai Airshow, held at DWC in mid-November, followed by the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference that Dubai hosted two weeks later. The activity also has increased due to the reassignment of nonscheduled flights to DWC from DXB.

Opened in the northern half of Dubai in 1960, DXB claims to be the world’s busiest airport for international airline passengers; it expects to process more than 85 million passengers in 2023. Nearing its capacity of 90 million annual passengers, eyeing major new aircraft orders by Emirates and flydubai, and limited for expansion by its proximity to neighboring emirate Sharjah, DXB has offloaded business aviation traffic to DWC to keep up with its growth.

“DXB over time has prioritized its capacity toward larger aircraft,” says Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths. “In fact, our average throughput-per-slot is about 235 passengers, which is the highest passengers-per-slot of any airport in the world. That productivity has given us on a very modest size, massive throughput to get to those numbers. In order to do that, we’ve moved a lot of the traffic on the periphery like business aviation, cargo operators, and a lot of the [small-package] integrators as well—FedEx, UPS, DHL—to DWC.”

As development in Dubai expands to the south, DWC “will become very geocentric to the city,” making it more convenient for business aviation in the future, Griffiths said during an interview at the Dubai Airshow.

Business Aviation Welcomed

FBOs DC-Al Futtaim, Execujet, Falcon Aviation, Jet Aviation and Jetex now support business aviation operations within the MBRAH. One of eight “integrated districts” anchored by DWC, the aerospace hub has rolled out a welcome mat to the bizav segment of the industry.

“Private jets fall to the bottom of any airport’s priority list,” says Tahnoon Saif, CEO of the MBRAH. “Here, we are bringing it back to the top of the priority list. We invested in a dedicated fuel farm, dedicated catering facilities, dedicated terminals—[elevating] high net-worth-individuals and private jet users to the top of the list.”

The hub is designed to support business aviation operations as well as airline and business jet MRO facilities. It is organized across four verticals: business aviation, maintenance and technical support, training and commercial real estate. Within the business aviation vertical, it started work in early 2023 on the second phase of the Dubai Helipark with partner Air Chateau International. Vertiport startup Vports plans to open an Advanced Air Mobility World Integrator Center with pads for electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles by 2026.

“We bring investors to come and serve the industry without putting assets on their books,” Saif explains. “[Developing] assets is our role; we are a specialized real estate entity. We do real estate development for the industry—like warehouses, airside facilities, hangars. This is our job, including the infrastructure.”

The MBRAH continues to grow, to the extent that Saif expects to reach 100% capacity by 2030. At the Dubai Airshow, the hub and flydubai signed an agreement to erect the carrier’s first purpose-built MRO facility by 2026, a $190 million project.

The aerospace hub announced agreements with OEMServices to build a regional support center for Airbus airliners and with UUDS for a new business aircraft completion and modification center. The hub also announced the expansion of its aerospace supply chain area for engine shops and component and landing gear MROs; its suppliers complex for small and midsize enterprises, and its line-maintenance units for FBOs.

“Although the airport and surrounding areas are designed to cater for the next 50 years, I think we are running out of space in Dubai South,” Saif says.

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.