The plan aims to expand Al-Maktoum International airport within eight years to shift the growing operations of Emirates Airlines from Dubai International, Dubai Airports chief Paul Griffiths told AFP today.

"We have now launched the first phase, which is for a 120-million-passenger capacity required to enable the Emirates' hub to relocate," to Al-Maktoum International in Dubai World Central economic zone, he said.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum has approved the USD 32-billion expansion project, with a timeframe of six to eight years to complete it.

This is "basically confirming that the strategic decision that was made some time ago of Dubai World Central being the airport for the future has been reaffirmed," Griffiths said.

Al-Maktoum International airport was launched before the global financial crisis hit Dubai in 2009, with plans to build the world's largest airport, featuring a 160-million-passenger capacity and six runways.

The ambitious plan appeared to have been put on the back burner due to the crisis, and the airport instead opened operations for cargo only in 2010, while small passenger operations began in October 2013 after repeated delays.

The final plan features five runways and could ultimately expand to accommodate 200 million passengers annually.

"Work has got to start very quickly," Griffiths said, pointing out that a date for commencement is yet to be set.

Dubai International handled more than 66.4 million passengers in 2013, and is expected to host more than 100 million passengers by 2020, as it continues to build capacity.

Ranked among the world's busiest airports for international travelers, Dubai International has established itself as a major stop on routes between the West and Asia and Australasia.

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