Region hopes to attract business and act as stopover hub

Iraq's northern region of Kurdistan is planning to open a new $300 million international airport next year, which the local government believes will be essential to attracting business to the area.

While the Iraqi capital Baghdad remains highly volatile, Kurdistan's primary city Erbil has been relatively stable - although it suffered a twin suicide bombing three years ago that killed scores of people, including several high-ranking political figures, and another devastating bomb attack 15 months later.

"Capabilities at the existing airport are limited," says the airport's general director, Taher Horami, speaking to Flight International in Erbil during an event marking Austrian Airlines' recent opening of a route to the city.

"The new extension, new terminal and runway will make it easier for other airlines to start operating," he says.

Horami says that the runway's length will ensure the airport will be able to accept any aircraft type in the future, and adds that he wants to see Erbil compete with cities such as Dubai as a stopover point for traffic between Europe and Asia.

Ten passenger airlines - including Flying Carpet, Iraqi Airways, Kurdistan Airlines, Mahan Air, Royal Jordanian and Viking Airlines - plus six freight carriers serve the current airport, which opened in April 2005. The airport handled nearly 164,000 passengers last year.

Its new terminal, which will ultimately be a T-shaped design, is now little more than a framework but will be able to cope with 2.75 million passengers when it is constructed.

UK infrastructure consultancy firm Scott Wilson has designed the building, while construction is being performed by Turkish company Mak-Yol.

Funding is being sourced entirely from the Kurdistan regional government. The airport will have six gates equipped with airbridges plus 16 remote stands, as well as 22 check-in desks.

Erbil will also have a 36m (118ft) control tower and air traffic management facilities to handle flights in northern Iraqi airspace.

Air traffic controllers will be trained both in the Jordanian capital Amman and at the Swedish civil aviation administration's centre in Malmo.

Simple base with dark past

The existing airport at Erbil, which was formerly a military base from which the Iraqi air force launched attacks on the Kurdish population, is a simple structure with few facilities.

It has a 1,500m2 (16,100ft2) terminal and two aprons with eight remote aircraft stands, plus a 2,800m (9,190ft)-long runway equipped with instrument landing systems.

This runway, which is designated 15/33, is set to become a taxiway when the new airport becomes operational in 2008. Erbil International airport's new runway 18/36 will be one of the longest in the world, at 4,800m in length. 

Source: Flight International