Serco wins £245m Dubai airports deal

Support services group Serco has won a 10-year, £245m contract to provide air traffic control at Dubai’s airports. The emirate is attempting to transform itself into the world’s biggest airport hub.

Dubai Airport is already the world’s 11th-busiest cargo airport and 20th-biggest in terms of passengers carried. Maktoum Airport, a new facility under construction in the desert south-east of the city, is projected to become the world’s busiest when it is completed in 2017, with a capacity of 160m passengers. Atlanta, the world’s busiest passenger hub, has a capacity of 90m passengers.

There have been fears that Maktoum would be abandoned after the tightening of credit caused a sharp downturn in Dubai’s construction sector last autumn. But Dubai Airports says the first terminal at the site, with a capacity of 7m-9m passengers, is on schedule to open next June, though details of the remaining facilities are still being finalised.

The contract, to be announced today, will cover radar services in and around the airport and will give Serco a role in designing the layout of Dubai’s airspace routes.

Serco’s background is in radar services – the group grew from a 1987 management buy-out of the Radio Corporation of America’s UK arm, which has held contracts for the maintenance of RAF Flying dales’ ballistic missile early warning station in north Yorkshire for almost 50 years.

The new airport offers links to many destinations, such as cheap holidays to Ayia Napa.

It also provides air traffic control services in Bahrain, where RCA UK signed its first contract in 1947, in Abu Dhabi, and in the smaller emirates of Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah.

Serco’s most ambitious attempt to expand into air traffic control fell apart in 2001 after it lost a tender to be the minority partner in the UK’s part-privatised National Air Traffic Services, following heavy campaigning by unions. The company wrote off £10.2m spent preparing the bid, which went to a consortium of BAA and UK airlines.

The group has signed £1bn worth of new contracts since the stat of the year and been appointed preferred bidder for a further £750m.

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