The director-general of the Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZ) has outlined ambitious plans that are aimed at offsetting the prospects of a slowdown in its core investor markets of Europe and the US, while also increasing the zone's status as a contributor to the emirate's GDP.

“The next expansion will be in the next year,” said Dr Mohammed Al Zarooni in an interview with fDi Magazine. “We have made plans for expansion in the future, to [eventually] bring another 1500 companies to the Dubai Airport Free Zone, because we have space for that and we can expand.”

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In the nearer term, the goal is to attract 600 to 700 additional companies in the next five or six years – in line with DAFZ's rate of growth in the 15 years since its inception, which has seen it average 100 new companies each year.

We have made plans for expansion in the future, to [eventually] bring  another 1500 companies to the Dubai Airport Free Zone, because we have  space for that and we can expand

Mohammed Al Zarooni

With DAFZ currently based on a700,000-square-metre site, it is hoping to expand eastwards this year, with a view to occupying a 100,000-square-metre leasable area.

“We have [already attracted] 1450 companies,” said Mr Al Zarooni. “The majority of the companies here are from Europe. I think we could be one of the [only] free zones in the region that [hosts] companies that are [mainly] from Europe and America. Based on a study that we conducted two years ago, our contribution to [Dubai's] GDP was 2.27%, which is good."

The intention is to further increase that percentage, while keeping an eye on the quality of investments, Mr Al Zarooni added.

While keen to uphold the important role of the European companies in DAFZ, which account for 37% of the companies present, Mr Al Zarooni remains aware of the need to diversify the free zone’s economic partners as it expands.

“The majority of our clients are from Europe and they are facing a lot of problems, but that doesn’t mean we are going to stop,” he said. “We are thankful we brought many companies [in] last year from Japan. This year our focus will be on the Far East: Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, China and even India, in case we face some difficulty in bringing in more companies from Europe, America and Australia.”