Qatar Airways has laid down the gauntlet to its local Gulf rival Emirates with the unveiling of plans for a new $2.5 billion airport in the country's capital Doha. The multi-runway development will open in 2008, with an initial capacity for 12 million passengers a year, but will be designed for growth to 50 million passengers through a two-phase expansion plan that should be completed in 30 years.

Work will begin next year with a land reclamation effort in an area adjacent to the existing airport, and construction will begin in 2005. When it opens in 2008, it will have two runways - one 4,850m (15,900ft) long, capable of handling a fully laiden Airbus A380, and the other 4,250m - and 24 contact gates.

Phase 2 is due to be ready by around 2020 with an annual capacity of 24 million passengers and 40 gates. The final phase should be operational by 2030, and will have 50 million capacity and 80 gates with accommodation for six A380s using two deck jetways.

"The airport will position Qatar as a leading regional aviation hub for at least the next 50 years," says Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of both Qatar Airways and Doha International Airport.

Qatar Airways has been growing at more than 30% annually recently, and expects to achieve 40% growth in the 12 months to March, carrying 3.3 million passengers. It has its sights on transit traffic at nearby hubs, with Emirates' Dubai operation top of the list. This airport's annual capacity is being raised from 16 million passengers to 80 million over the next few years.

"There is already serious congestion at Dubai during the peak time, and this will worsen when the expansion is completed," says Al Baker. "We've designed our new airport to ensure fast turnarounds and taxi times," he says.

Source: Flight International