The Abu Dhabi government has approved the building of a Midfield Terminal Complex costing $6.7 billion for a 2017 opening, and it may become very familiar to Australian travellers by then, but this is by no means a certainty.
By 2017 Airbus or Boeing may have become more serious about making an airliner that will fly non-stop between Sydney or Melbourne and London or Frankfurt, if not massive low cost carrier distribution points like Hahn, Bratislava, or Manchester.
There is no doubting that both the A380 and 777 families could do this with foreseeable improvements in engines and airframes, provided there is a business case for the necessary investment, and by around 2020.
However keen students of both companies believe neither has retained enough engineers to complete the design changes needed given medium term demands from other larger selling projects, like their respective A320 NEO and 737 MAX projects, and the on-going needs of the 787 and A350 families.
Abu Dhabi wouldn’t even be visible from such flights, which would track far to the north across Siberia to follow the shortest available air routes between Australia and Europe.
But neither Abu Dhabi, nor larger UAE rival, Dubai, nor Qatar, are thinking about a future that requires Australia to exist, but are instead competing for the massive shorter term potential of their own markets, the wider Middle East, India, central Asia and northern and western Africa and the strength of routes directly serving China, Korea and Japan as well as Europe.
Several billion people are moving towards incomes that would allow them to fly frequently, and none of them live here.
Which means Australia isn’t of much if any importance to the realisation of these ambitions, but it is easy pickings today, given the indifference of Qantas to the Middle East, despite the rising volume of resources and agri-business traffic.
Most probably, services between here and Europe will continue to need one stop en route, and the volume of economy and premium economy traffic will have a value that no airline is likely to ignore.
At the moment Abu Dhabi is the changeover city for Virgin Australia’s initial service to Europe in conjunction with Etihad, which flies all the way. But most of the traffic that lands in the UAE on its way to Europe and central Asia and northern Africa is carried by Emirates over Dubai, with no Australian flag carrier flying to that city on a scheduled basis despite assurances of unlimited access to an airport already served by more than 100 airlines, which is also why a second Dubai airport is now under construction.
The new Abu Dhabi terminal has an initial capacity of 20 million passengers a year, or about half that of Sydney today, but it is the down payment on larger more prudently funded ambitions for Abu Dhabi for 2030 and beyond.
Prediction: Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai will be served by Australian flag carriers by 2017, and one them could be Jetstar.