Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (Gaca) is revising its tendering strategy for the SR18bn ($4.8bn) expansion of King Abdulaziz International airport in Jeddah.

Instead of awarding one design contract and separate contracts for the construction of each element of the airport, the aviation authority will now award two large contracts involving both design and construction work. The first will cover the new terminal building and the second will be for infrastructure works.

Sources at contractors hoping to win work on the project say they have been told by Gaca of its revised plans, and expect tenders to be released in early 2010. The new procurement strategy should speed up the delivery of the project, as contractors will now be able to start some of the construction work before all the design work has been finalised.

The project is one of the region’s largest building schemes. The terminal deal will involve des-ign-ing and building a 600,000-square-metre terminal capable of handling 30 million passengers a year.

The infrastructure contract is to design and build runways, tunnels and a light rail system.

According to sources close to the project, the national aviation authority is preparing to invite at least six groups to bid for both contracts. They include the local Almabani General Contractors Company, Athens-based Consolidated Contractors Company, Cyprus-based Joannou & Paraskevaides, the local Saudi Binladin Group, a joint venture of Saudi Oger and South Africa’s Murray & Roberts Contractors (Middle East), and Turkey’s TAV with the local Al-Rajhi Group.

As a result of the new approach, Gaca has cancelled a tender for the airport’s foundations that was put out in early December. Gaca had prequalified at least 20 companies for the foundations job in July, but the work will now form part of the larger terminal contract.

However, it is unclear whether a previously tendered package to build a tunnel under the airport’s main runway will also be cancelled or will still go ahead, perhaps as a subcontract within the new infrastructure package. Bids were submitted in early December for the construction of the 700-metre-long road tunnel. The low bidder was China Harbour Engineering Company, with a price of SR233m ($62m), about 6 per cent lower than the second-lowest price of SR249m, submitted by the local Al-Yamama Company for Trading & Contracting.

In early April 2009, Gaca awarded Almabani an earthworks contract for the project, which will still go ahead as planned.

Gaca is also planning to invite contractors to submit expressions of interest for the expansion of Medina International airport including a new terminal, in early 2010.

No one at Gaca was available to comment on the project.