ROUTES: Bahrain airport plans $1bn upgrade

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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. It is using World Routes to target new air services from Asia and is close to launching a $1 billion investment programme to boost the airport’s capacity.

“Bahrain is going through a transitional phase, with Bahrain Air liquidated earlier this year and Gulf Air transforming with a focus on regional routes rather than long-haul,” says Bahrain Airport Company chief executive Mohamed Yousif Al-Binfalah.

In the wake of the political upheaval in early 2011, Bahrain’s traffic had declined, but “rebounded” in 2012 to 8.5 million passengers, says Al-Binfalah. The recent 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 Al-Binfalah, who believes the airport has reached “the lowest point. From now on it’s a matter of rebuilding.”

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. We hope to have the design engineer consultant on board very soon,” 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.”

In the meantime, Bahrain airport aims to fill some of the void left by the changes to its local carriers through new air services from Asian carriers. “We want to attract new airlines. We are focusing mainly on emerging markets in the Far East and Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangkok and China,” Al Binfalah says.