As the 18th busiest cargo handling facility in the world, Dubai's Cargo Village can justify its ambition to become a global logistics hub with a major expansion plan to increase handling capacity more than fivefold by the year 2020.
Established in 1991, the cargo village is next to the main building of the airport and operates round the clock with a staff of about 3,000.
It soon outstripped its original capacity of 250,000 tonnes a year, and by 1995 an expansion was necessary to boost capacity to 350,000 tonnes per annum. Another upgrading has led to its present annual handling capacity of 750,000 tonnes.
In line with government plans for Dubai's business expansion, the cargo village is set to undergo a major expansion that will see the building of a 'Cargo Mega Terminal' capable of handling the four million tonnes annually by 2020, says Ali Al Jallaf, cargo village director.
The first phase of expansion is due for completion next year. The second phase will see an upgrading of the existing cargo terminal to semi-automatic status and the construction of the new multi-storey mega cargo terminal. Another new terminal will be constructed, depending upon actual required capacity, in a third phase.
'Dubai has been witnessing remarkable all-round growth. It is our effort not just to sustain this growth but to make sure that we stay abreast, if not ahead, of the best in the world in the coming millennium,' says Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of the department of civil aviation and chairman of the Emirates Group.
Dubai is not unaware of the burgeoning China market and has set its sights on capturing business from the mainland. Yet the government is keenly aware that the emirate is not the only country ready to handle China's goods and that it will have to work for a share.
'If you look at China, it is also very close to the Far East region and to the Pacific market. It will depend on the facilities you have and how hard you work to get this business,' says Sheikh Ahmed.
In anticipation of increased traffic, Emirates Airlines has already begun freight services to Shanghai. The facility's number one customer - after the emirates' flagship carrier - is Cathay Pacific, with 120 flights weekly.
Another development at the cargo village is the development of a flower-handling centre.
Flowers are big business globally and can be good business for Dubai, says Mr Jallaf. The idea is to make the emirate a logistics hub for floriculture, horticulture and perishables, with the emirate playing a major role in the development of the industry in the region. It is planned that flowers from Africa, India and Europe will transit through Dubai to markets in the Middle East and Far East, he says.
The centre should be in operation by the end of 2004.