Airport development in the Gulf is the backbone of the region’s network carriers' ambitions, so unsurprisingly each of their hubs have major expansion programmes.
Dubai International (DXB) is undergoing further growth, but despite extensive work this is probably only a stop-gap until the emirate’s mega-hub development, Dubai World Central (DWC) airport becomes fully operational. Down the road in Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways will get its new mid-field terminal around four years from now.
In Doha, Qatar Airways is poised to jump across to its all-new hub, Hamad International airport (HIA) in 2014. Work is well advanced to transform Muscat International airport in Oman, with the addition of a second runway and a completely new terminal complex. Bahrain is adopting a three-phase development which includes modernising Gulf Air’s existing hub at Manama, ahead of long-term construction of an all-new airport.
Dubai’s DWC reached a significant milestone in October with the launch of its first passenger flights, but the realisation of its long-term aspirations are still some way away.
The airport’s first scheduled passenger operator is Hungary’s budget airline Wizz Air. “We expect [other low-cost carriers] to follow,” says Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports.
DWC was hailed as the world’s biggest airport project – with six runways and a capacity of 160 million passengers. However, development has largely been on hold, with the city focusing on boosting capacity at its existing international airport. Griffiths expects the new gateway – also known as Al Maktoum International – to “play the dominant role” after 2020, by which time DXB will have reached its limit of almost 100 million passengers a year.
But as president Tim Clark explains, Emirates is concerned that expansion planned for DXB ahead of DWC becoming fully on line may not keep pace with its own requirements.
Emirates’ growth and the strong recovery of Dubai as a trading and leisure destination is putting pressure on the current airport despite an ongoing expansion programme designed to enable the airport handle more than 90 million passengers by 2020. Clark says that the airport is handling “62-63 million” passengers a year now and growing at 15%, which means it is very likely to surpass that 2020 traffic projection during 2016.
“By August 2016, at the current rate of growth DXB will be at 97 million passengers, of which Emirates will be about 45 million,” he says. “The maths tells us that compounded [we’ll reach the target] four years earlier than we thought we would. So Emirates is busy working on stand choreography in the peaks to maximise the most efficient use of the real estate.”
From 2017, Abu Dhabi’s giant Midfield Terminal will be the new hub of flag carrier Etihad Airways, with an initial capacity of 30 million passengers. The emirate’s 1970s-era international airport, with its two modest terminal buildings, has struggled to keep pace with the growth of Etihad and slot demand from other airlines. The airport catered for a record 14.7 million passengers in 2012, and Abu Dhabi Airports (ADAC) expects numbers to be nudging 20 million by the time the Midfield Terminal opens.
ADAC chief executive Tony Douglas is confident the new building, which will have 65 gates – including eight for the Airbus A380 – and is located between the airport’s two runways, will give the carrier the room it needs beyond 2030.
The Omani government describes the construction of the new Muscat International airport as the “largest infrastructure project undertaken in its history”. The development, on land adjacent to the existing Seeb airport, will have an initial capacity of 12 million passengers, rising in phases to 48 million. The current facility handled 7.5 million passengers last year – an increase of 17% on the previous year.
As part of the new airport’s construction, the existing runway will be extended to 4,000m (13,100ft), and a second runway of similar length is due to open in 2014. The airport, which is designed to accommodate Airbus A380-sized Code F aircraft, is due to open within five years.
Bahrain airport is confident that the worst is behind it, following the collapse of one local carrier and the downsizing of its hub operator Gulf Air, and is close to launching a $1 billion investment programme to boost the airport’s capacity.
In the wake of political upheaval in early 2011 Bahrain’s traffic declined, but rebounded in 2012 to 8.5 million passengers. The recent airline developments will see 2013 traffic fall to 7.5-8 million.
The kingdom’s political problems “have subdued to a large extent... life is back to normal in Bahrain”, says Bahrain Airport Company chief executive Mohamed Yousif Al-Binfalah.
There is a short-, medium- and long-term development plan for Bahrain’s airport infrastructure, starting with a $80 million upgrade over the next 2-3 years to the existing facilities. “In the next five years, the government plans to invest $1 billion to increase the capacity of the terminal to 13.5 million passengers,” Al-Binfalah says.
A long-term plan is to build a completely new airport, but construction is at least 15-20 years away, says Al-Binfalah. “The initial steps have been to identify two potential locations, both of which would be on reclaimed land,” he says.