Hubbub about the rising hub

With increased capacity and an $8 billion expansion plan, Dubai International is tipped to overtake London Heathrow.

Dubai International is expected to surpass London Heathrow on the world's busiest international airport charts by 2020.

Hartsfield-Jackson in the US city of Atlanta has long held the No.1 spot, with Chicago O'Hare second and Heathrow third.

However, in January, Beijing beat out Atlanta by 20,000 passengers, and Tokyo's Haneda came in third, pushing O'Hare and Heathrow down the list.

It was a brief blip; the US and British three remain on average the busiest. But there's no doubt Asia is an increasingly busy region overall for commercial aviation.

And what that means for Australian passengers is that the Middle East in particular may become a more attractive way to access Europe with the UAE moving to meet the new conditions.

Dubai International is now ranked fourth globally in terms of international passenger traffic and pundits say that is on the back of it being a preferred transit point between the West and Asia and Australasia. Those Australians who have travelled through Dubai may have loved the convenience - once you get there, it's only a five- or six-hour skip to many popular southern European destinations.

Sky Report loves that. It feels as if after one very long flight, you've actually arrived somewhere close. The required accumulated time is not all that different to flying through Bangkok or Hong Kong. It's a psychological thing.

Not so loveable has been the seething crush Dubai airport can be.


However, at the recent Airport Show in Dubai, the UAE reiterated plans to invest around $8 billion towards airport expansion with a view to increasing capacity from 60 million a year to 90 million passengers by 2018.

That includes the construction of the world's largest dedicated A380 facility, which is now not so far away from being a reality - it's scheduled to be open by the end of this year.

Here's hoping that means no more stepping over sleeping bodies in the vicinity of the retail hall.

Meaty treats

Canberra's Poachers Pantry charcuterie has supplied its delicious farm-smoked goods to the likes of Tetsuya's for 20 years. In the past few years those tasty morsels have been included in the menus of the Qantas first- and business-class cabins.

For the rest of us, tasting some of PP mastermind Susan Bruce's perfect pancetta, succulent salami and tasty trout has meant buying from gourmet delis such as Thomas Dux or travelling to the Poacher's Pantry itself, a gorgeous rustic restaurant half an hour from the Canberra CBD at Hall.

That all changed after Bruce attended a foodie trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, last year.

She saw a machine called a thermoformer, which takes vacuum packing to a whole new level (so the aficionados say), and the Poacher's Antipasto Pack was born as the Qantas "PM Refreshment".

Always up for a challenge, Bruce was "... really excited by the machine," as she told Sky Report on our recent visit to her Canberra property. "Most snacks in economy are carb-based, the only real protein one being nuts. I started thinking of ways to provide another one to Qantas."

Essentially the thermoformer does for food what vacuum packaging has done for non-edibles: create a plastic packing exactly to the food's shape. Don't ask us about the science; it's just good for supplying antipasto to planes.

And afternoon and evening domestic economy passengers have been reaping the benefits. "Qantas has a lot of great regional wines on board, so I thought: 'What could be nicer than a wonderful regional wine paired with a delicious regional antipasto pack?"' Bruce said.

Upscale eating

Meanwhile, other airlines are stepping up in the food stakes. Cathay Pacific's regional airline Dragonair has introduced a new inflight menu to first and business passengers, in partnership with the swish Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong hotel. The menu is designed and adapted by the hotel's executive chef Uwe Opocensky. The arrangement runs until April 2013 on flights between Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

Airport hotel review

Sky Report recently had cause to stay at a Sydney airport hotel and got a good deal on the Airport Ibis via .

Anyone who knows Sky Report knows we have a penchant for luxury in our hotels. We're happy to report that, though the Ibis is a two-star, it is five-star when it comes to service.

Rooms are simple but smart, with crisp plain white linen on the beds and lovely aviation-themed black-and-white photography as artwork.

But it's the Ibis people who make it a real find. The staff went above and beyond, helping with an early check-in, a hand with luggage and a late meal in-room.

For the good night's sleep and lack of stress in making an early flight, $198 overnight (that's the deal we got) and $6 for the 10-minute shuttle ride to the airport in the morning was money well spent.

Gateway to convenience

Nothing like a SmartGate to make a person feel not so smart, or is that just us? In Sky Report's case, our initial attempts at using Sydney International's computerised face-recognition passport checkpoints had us more like Maxwell Smart in our attempts to be down with the technology, while ending up looking like a bumbling troglodyte.

We blame our short attention span: the problem seems to be looking away just before the electronic eye thing has completed its business.

It seems it may indeed just be us with this issue. The gates are proving so popular that Sydney Airport is adding more.

The CEO of Sydney Airport, Kerrie Mather, says: "SmartGates have been increasingly popular since they were introduced in 2009, with additional gates installed in 2010 and more currently under construction.

"We already have a high number of passengers who opt to use SmartGates and we expect this to increase as Australian passports are replaced with microchipped e-passports by 2015."

Apparently it takes everyone else around 90 seconds to get through these gates. That's something for Sky Report to look forward to.

Route watch

Emirates has deployed a bigger plane to deal with demand for its Dublin-Dubai run, barely six months after the airline began flying the route.

A 360-seat Boeing 777-300ER is now on the job servicing what Emirates calls "one of its most successful new passenger services", offering about 50 per cent more seats than previously on the route.

A big part of the success has been connections to the Australian ports of Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.