A flight carrying about 100 passengers from Budapest touched down at Dubai's new Al Maktoum International Airport on Sunday, a modest first arrival for a terminal designers hope will be the world's largest in 10 years.
The United Arab Emirates' most flashy city-state, known for its high-flying ambitions, already gave the new airport the code DWC for Dubai World Central.
The airport's construction and development is forecast to cost more than US$32 billion. When complete, it will have five runways capable of handling 160 million passengers a year. About 63 per cent of that will be people in transit, said Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths at the inauguration of the new passenger terminal.
Aviation comprises 28 per cent of Dubai's gross domestic product, some US$22 billion a year. Much of the current revenue comes from Dubai International Airport, which is the fourth-busiest airport in the world, serving around 57 million passengers last year. That airport, though, is expected to reach its full capacity of 90 million passenger by 2020.
The new Al Maktoum International Airport is an attempt to hold Dubai's edge in the market.
"There is a lot of pressure to get the airport running," Griffiths said. "Its ambition is to be the world's largest airport and the world's largest hub."
Dubai's pivotal location on the eastern tip of the Arabian peninsula makes it a gateway from Europe to the East, said Jozsef Varadi, CEO of the privately owned Hungarian Wizz Air. His company's passenger flight was the first to arrive at the new airport on Sunday.
The airport has been open since 2010 to cargo flights. Around 36 freight operators regularly operate at the airport.
However, with just three agreements signed with passenger airlines, DWC still has far to go before it rivals other destinations.
Construction of the airport's mega terminal is well behind schedule following the 2009 financial crisis.
Griffiths said there are plans for the airport by 2025 to accommodate the needs of Emirates, the Middle East's biggest airline, which is based at Dubai International Airport.
Griffiths said there were no plans in place to close Dubai International Airport, but that ultimately the decision would be determined by airspace capacity.