The unrelenting demand for business aviation in the Middle East has persuaded Abu Dhabi Airports to transform the Al Bateen military airfield near the centre of Abu Dhabi into the emirate's only dedicated executive airport.

The government-owned aviation development company and airport owner said at Farnborough it has committed an initial $55 million for the project, which will be used to upgrade and expand the airport's existing infrastructure including the 3,200m (10,500ft) runway, the lighting and electrical power, passenger terminal and aircraft stands.

Abu Dhabi Airports chief executive Rudy Vercelli says: "Business aviation movements at Abu Dhabi International [the leading destination for business aircraft in the country, also owned by Abu Dhabi Airports] grew by 18% last year and there are no signs of the growth levelling out."

Al Bateen is already used by business aircraft operators - including the region's largest charter provider Royal Jet and helicopter operator Falcon Aviation Services - although only a handful of flights are served each day, says Vercelli.

"We have the capacity for up to 30 business jets, but once the airport is fully operational in early 2011 we could house up to 100 aircraft," he adds.

Work is set to begin at Al Bateen in the coming weeks and the handover from the military will be complete within three years. Abu Dhabi Airports says it has already received considerable interest from established fixed-based operators and maintenance providers to set up a regional base at Al Bateen as the region has become a hotbed of business aircraft activity.

Vercelli says: "There are 388 business jets in the Middle East and that figure is forecast to rise to over 900 jets within six years."

Source: Flight International