Gulf airports: Dubai sets the benchmark

12 July 2002

Bermuda has more courteous staff, and it is easier to make a connection via Singapore. But in all other respects, Dubai International Airport is top of the class. That, at least, is the verdict of 80,000 passengers canvassed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for its 2002 Global Airport Monitor. The survey of 52 airports worldwide puts Dubai in first position for overall passenger satisfaction, among both leisure and business travellers.

Dubai's Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has no intention of resting on its laurels. It has embarked on an expansion programme aimed at dealing with 30 million passengers a year by 2010, co-ordinated with the rapid growth of Dubai-based Emirates airline.

Airport authorities elsewhere in the Gulf have started to sit up and take notice. Qatar is making a bid to follow in Dubai's footsteps with an integrated approach combining airport development with the expansion of the national airline and the construction of hotel, conference and sports facilities. Saudi Arabia is also preparing for a major upgrade of Jeddah airport, and new developments are under way in Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, as well as in Dubai's fellow emirates of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman.


'Our expansion is probably the biggest in the region,' DCA president and Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said in an 8 July statement to MEED. 'We are investing $2,500 million to create one of the most advanced and user-friendly aviation hubs not just in the region, but worldwide.'

The case for expansion is supported by the latest figures for traffic at Dubai airport. In the first six months of 2002 - a period in which the global aviation sector was still grappling with the 11 September legacy - 7.5 million passengers went through the airport, a year-on-year increase of 10 per cent. Cargo movement rose by 20 per cent in the same period.

The expansion programme includes construction of a third terminal and of second and third concourses. There will also be a new cargo terminal, and the airfield lighting system will be upgraded. The project is targeted for completion by 2006.

'All these facilities will be dedicated to Emirates,' said Sheikh Ahmed. 'We will be acquiring a number of aircraft in the coming years and by 2010 will have close to around 100 aircraft. Naturally the airport has to be equipped to handle all these aircraft.' In November 2001, Emirates announced the signing of orders worth $15,000 million in total for the purchase of 56 new airliners, including 20 Airbus A380 super-jumbos.

'Between concourse 2 and 3 we will have 17 gates capable of handling the A380. Besides, these gates will also be equipped suitably with double deck boarding lounges,' Sheikh Ahmed added.

Work has started on the first major package on the airport expansion following the award of an estimated $136 million earthworks and piling contract to a Dubai-based firm. Several other major packages are to be tendered over the next six months.

Progress has not been quite so smooth with the Abu Dhabi International Airport expansion scheme. The client, the Works Department, is reassessing the role of the US' Parsons International which was appointed overall project manager for the estimated $600 million expansion. Also under review is the design for the proposed new terminal. France's Aeroports de Paris (AdP) has submitted a fresh design aimed at replacing the titanium cladding with structured steel. 'The first package is not expected to be tendered before the end of 2002,' says an official at Abu Dhabi's DCA.

In Sharjah, two consultants have been shortlisted to draw up designs for a proposed AED 80 million ($22 million) project to build a new terminal and additional airline docking facilities at the emirates' international airport. The tiny emirate of Ajman is also studying plans for an international airport. The UK's Wiggins Group has started work on a feasibility study for the estimated $100 million build-operate (BO) scheme. It will entail construction of a 3.5-kilometre runway, a new terminal building, a dedicated shopping area, a high-technology park and related facilities.

Saudi Arabia

This flurry of activity in the UAE has been matched by developments elsewhere in the Gulf. The most challenging of these schemes is the planned expansion of Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International Airport. The airport serves as the gateway for the annual hajj, and is consequently one of the busiest in the world. Built in 1981, it has seen an ever-increasing flow of passengers that is expected to reach some 15 million a year soon. The new expansion programme will increase annual handling capacity to 21 million passengers. The programme will also smarten up an airport that has seen better days.

Designed by NACO of the Netherlands, the expansion programme focuses on the construction of two new passenger terminals - for domestic and international travel - alongside a renovation of the existing south terminal. In addition, the scheme will entail the construction of a docking pier with 32 passenger gangways to link the terminals to visiting aircraft, as well as the construction of other associated facilities.

Seven international companies are now bidding for the project management consultancy (PMC) contract, which is likely to be awarded by the end of the third quarter. Prequalification can then begin in the fourth quarter for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, which will be awarded next year. The expansion, estimated to cost over $1,000 million, is expected to be completed in 2007.

Originally, private financing had been expected to play a prominent role in the project, with early proposals looking at a build-operate-transfer (BOT) investment model. However, the Presidency of Civil Aviation has now decided to press on with the expansion itself.


The project that has most in common with the Dubai developments, is the new Doha International Airport scheme - indeed a delegation of officials working on the Qatari airport project was recently in Dubai exchanging notes with the DCA. Like Dubai, the Doha scheme is largely being driven by the ambitions of an airline, Qatar Airways (QA).

Plans for a major expansion of Doha International Airport have been around in various forms for over a decade. And in mid 2001, it finally appeared that a $600 million expansion, involving a new terminal, a second runway and a major road network, was destined to proceed. Bids went in for the first package, the land reclamation. The tender was issued for the second - the road network - while prequalification was launched for the terminal building. It proved a false dawn, however. Twelve months on, none of the packages had been awarded.

Aware that the deadline for the new facilities to be commissioned - the 2006 Asian games in Doha - was fast approaching, the government took action. A five-member committee, headed by director of civil aviation Adulaziz al-Naimi, was appointed in June to oversee the scheme, which is now expected to cost $1,000 million.

The first task of the committee, which includes representatives from QA and the ministry, will be to select a final project design. It is understood to be looking at a number of options, ranging from increasing the size of the new terminal to 24 passenger bridges from the original 18, to extending the length of the second runway by one kilometre. Once the final design has been selected, the committee will turn its attention to awarding the reclamation package.


In the upper Gulf, Kuwait is pursuing plans for expansion of Kuwait International Airport (KIA). An announcement is due for the post of project manager on the estimated $300 million expansion scheme. Known as Kuwait Airspace System Plan (KASP), the project will include the installation of long-range radar systems and airfield equipment, the renovation of the existing terminal, a 600-metre extension of the west runway and related civil works. Germany's Lahmeyer International is the consultant.

KIA is also looking to build a new terminal with capacity for 5 million passengers a year, just over double the number of passengers handled by the existing terminal in 2001. The Communications Ministry will submit a proposal to the cabinet by early August seeking approval to build the new terminal on a BOT basis.


In Bahrain the government is also planning to spruce up its airport. The Finance & National Economy Ministry is considering proposals to invest BD 60 million ($158 million) to build a new terminal and landing facilities at Bahrain International Airport, located on Muharraq island. NACO has already drawn up a feasibility study and masterplan for the project. An award is also due in August for the $21 million contract to convert the existing taxiway into an emergency runway.


In Oman, a consortium of British Airports Authority (BAA), Bahwan Trading Company and Swiss-based ABB Equity Ventures was awarded last August the mandate to operate and manage Seeb and Salalah airports. A new company, Oman Airports Management Company, has been established to run the airports and invest RO 100 million ($256 million) in their extensive development. The first phase of the programme has already started with the upgrade of Seeb.

Seven international consultants have been selected to draw up a masterplan for the project, which is expected to increase the airport's passenger throughput in phase 1 to about 6.5 million passengers a year from 2.3 million at present. Elsewhere in Oman, the Department of Civil Aviation & Meteorology is looking at developing small regional airports to service tourism and local industry in isolated locations such as Sohar and Ras al-Had.

One of the lessons of the success of the Dubai enterprise has been the importance of integrating airport projects with liberalisation of the aviation sector and investment in businesses that will stimulate passenger and cargo traffic. Over the next 10 years the extent to which other Gulf governments have absorbed this message will be put to the test.

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