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Fri 4 May 2018 12:11 AM

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Opinion: Dubai - right time, right place

With a deep-sea port, advanced hyperloop plans and two major airports, Dubai is no longer at a logistics crossroads - it is the crossroads

Opinion: Dubai - right time, right place
Flying high Al Maktoum International serves as a hub for air cargo traffic

A decade ago, Dubai’s claim to fame was the range of grandiose projects – the world’s tallest building, a giant indoor ski slope, offshore islands and mega-malls. The success of these projects in drawing attention to Dubai is undeniable. Yet something about the city’s latest projects seem very different from those it was contemplating back then.

Let’s start with aviation: Al Maktoum International is being built at a cost of $32bn and will handle 120 million passengers in 2022, and 250 million by 2050. It is central to a 140 sq-km multiphased Dubai World Central development of six zones, including Logistics City and Aviation City. It will also be a mere stone’s throw from the $7bn Expo 2020 site, where Siemens will build its global logistics headquarters – where automation will govern the movement of goods, powered by artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

The combined Dubai World Central and Expo 2020 Dubai Exhibition District, which has now been rebranded Dubai South, is just a short hop from Jebel Ali Freezone. If aviation accounts for 38 percent of the city’s GDP – scheduled to be 45 percent by 2030 – the world’s biggest man-made harbour, and also the UAE’s most important port, accounts for fully a quarter.

Joining the dots

Dubai’s eventual plan is to closely align connections across its sea and air logistics assets. As they stand, cargo connections from Jebel Ali to Al Maktoum International take up to four hours right now. But that’s not fast enough for the city; its experiments with hyperloop technology show what it is really aiming for.

Launched last week, DP World Cargo Speed is a joint venture between Jebel Ali Port operator DP World and billionaire the Richard Branson-chaired Virgin Hyperloop One, and the project already has $300m in funding behind it. The goal is to move goods at a speed of 1,200kph over land, making connections between Al Maktoum International Airport and Jebel Ali Port possible in a matter of minutes

The benefits of speed

All this matters for several reasons. We live in an interconnected world where the rapid transport of goods is key; especially in an era when the rapidly growing e-commerce business depends on ever faster delivery times. This requires substantial upgrades to infrastructure everywhere.

The future of aviation also requires a more seamless experience for passengers. When I spoke with Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths last year, he said he was “serious about looking into technology... that could allow for passengers to drop their bags off, say near Business Bay and hop into a pod to get to DWC in five or six minutes.”

All signs point to Dubai’s sea and aviation logistics operations being ever more closely interconnected”

The same technology was mentioned by Emirates’ chief digital officer Christoph Mueller at the Arabian Travel Market last month, when he envisaged a scenario in which passengers transit between Dubai’s two airports in a matter of minutes on a hyperloop network.

Branson, meanwhile, reckons Hyperloop One could make use of “one of these lovely islands in Dubai,” he said in the announcement last week. “Freight could be unloaded on an island, put on a hyperloop, and shipped 20 miles inland. All of that port land could be sold off for hotels, leisure or other things because it’s on the sea.”

Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen. However all signs point to Dubai’s sea and aviation logistics operations being ever more closely interconnected. Given that the city is the first stop for all shipments making their way to the rest of Asia from the US, Europe and Africa, Dubai’s position on the globe, at the centre of an eight-hour flight that can connect two-thirds of the world, it makes complete sense to do so.

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