Two years ago, Dubai’s skyscraper-studded skyline welcomed a Ferris wheel touted as the world’s largest, but it mysteriously stopped turning just months after opening. The much-touted Ain Dubai (Dubai Eye) was designed as a tourist-luring landmark in the United Arab Emirates’ glam hub, home to the world’s tallest building. But now it stands idle for undisclosed reasons, its extravagant light fixtures the only parts seemingly still working.
The 250-foot Ferris wheel, located on an artificial island called Bluewaters, is more giant than the famous attraction in Las Vegas and London’s London Eye combined. It weighs 9,000 tonnes, more than the steel-laced Eiffel Tower, and each leg alone is longer than 15 London buses. It took 11 months to erect, and a single spin takes 38 minutes.
Officials first gave developers the go-ahead for the record-breaking ride in 2013 as part of a larger project to increase tourism. But the project faced numerous delays as the builders struggled to secure funding. Construction began in late 2015, and the attraction opened in March 2021.
Ain Dubai can carry 1,750 passengers, nearly double the number that can fit in a single ride on the High Roller in Los Angeles. It also boasts the highest number of air-conditioned cabins, with each of the 48 gondolas capable of fitting 40 people. Guests can purchase tickets for as little as 100 dirhams ($27), with luxury passes and private cabins also available.
Despite the vast passenger capacity, one of the main problems is that the colossal structure has been inert since March 20, causing frustration among locals who wanted to see it in action. Speculation has run wild on the cause of the problem, but the governing body still needs to provide details or a reopening date.
Employees at the Bluewaters complex have hesitated to speak publicly for fear of repercussions from their employers or authorities. But a few workers did reveal some of their concerns. “This is a man-made island, and I heard that the wheel is heavier than the island itself,” said an employee at a food court, speaking anonymously.
The Ain Dubai website says the wheel will remain closed until further notice while engineers continue to work on “enhancement works.” But the operators have yet to provide a date for reopening, leading some to suspect that they may be struggling with the massive weight of the gondolas or perhaps even the entire structure itself.
While officials are usually quick to respond to inquiries, they have remained mum on the Ain Dubai mystery, leading Patrick Clawson, research director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, to suggest that there could be more behind the scenes than meets the eye. “It might be an extremely complicated issue, and we have to take a while to get to the bottom,” he told.