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Bustanica Seedlings (Photo: Emirates Airlines)

Emirates Opens World’s Largest Vertical Farm

Emirates Flight Catering is a huge operation based in Dubai that supplied over 225,000 meals a day prior to the pandemic and has a staff of over 6,000. It provides catering services for all Emirates flights along with many other airlines and airport lounges in Dubai.

It operates with chefs from 69 different nationalities all developing food to cater to passengers traveling across the world. This naturally requires a significant amount of ingredients coming in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Given the UAE’s location, sourcing certain ingredients can pose a challenge. Supply chains are tightening all over the world and it’s becoming considerably more challenging to source goods.

This is a problem for a huge commercial kitchen operation that needs to operate on strict deadlines. One innovative solution Emirates Flight Catering has come up with is the development of the world’s largest hydroponic farm in partnership with Crop One, a large player in indoor vertical farming.

Hydroponic Farming

The facility, named Bustanica, is a 330,000 sqft facility right outside of Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport. It that will produce over 2.2 million pounds of primarily leafy greens annually, which equates to a daily output of approximately 6,600 pounds of produce. There are future plans to grow fruits and vegetables along with the current leafy greens such as kale, spinach, lettuce, and arugula.

The facility has also taken considerable steps to ensure a growing environment free of pests and unwanted plant growth. This essentially eliminates the need for pesticides or herbicides. Craig Ratajczyk, CEO of Crop One, goes as far as to say that customers buying produce from Bustanica can eat it straight from the bag and washing the produce could actually introduce contaminants.

Most of this will go to Emirates Flight Catering starting in July for use onboard in various salads and as components of other dishes. Eventually, as production ramps up, Bustanica also plans on selling produce directly in supermarkets within the United Arab Emirates.

Environmental Impact

There is a significant environmental benefit to this approach as well. Hydroponic farms are inherently better for the environment due to their smaller footprint than traditional farms without compromising food output. This along with reduced soil erosion allow for ethical growing that reduces the overall environmental impact of feeding people.

Additionally, it is expected that Bustanica will require 95 percent less water than conventional farms to grow the same amount of produce. Water is also regularly recycled after cleaning. A significant amount of water savings for a country with a desert climate with a negligible amount of readily available fresh water.

Not only is this a big step for Emirates to run the largest vertical farm but also a big step towards expanding hydroponic farming techniques across the world. Bustanica meets several business needs for a consistent supply of produce for the airline’s catering kitchens while also working towards environmental targets established by the UAE government. It’s a move that many airlines can look to as the entire industry shifts towards more environmental responsibility.


  • Hemal Gosai

    Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.

Hemal Gosai

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