GULF AIRPORTS: Expansion plans take flight

16 July 2004
Swelling state coffers, buoyant business confidence, growing tourism ambitions - the prevailing atmosphere across GCC states has more in common than the sweltering summer heat. Whether for big-ticket sports events or big-ticket business deals, visitors are adding the Gulf to their itineraries in ever-growing numbers: figures released in mid-July from Dubai International Airport showed first-half 2004 passenger traffic up by more than a quarter over the previous year - itself no lean period. GCC airlines are correspondingly growing in ambition, with fleet expansions and new carriers piling up. And to accommodate such growth, copious sums are being pumped into the expansion of the region's airports.

Airport projects in the region are not renowned for smoothness of execution. Many now seeing the light of day, in terms of contract awards and investment commitments, have been on the drawing board for several years. Even those that are under way continue to suffer delays, reviews and revisions. But the biggest schemes in the region - a grassroots airport in Doha and a massive expansion of Dubai International Airport - are moving forward swiftly, while more sluggish projects are also benefiting from the GCC's economic well-being to gain a new lease of life. High oil revenues and investor confidence may be fickle beasts, but all Gulf states to a greater or lesser extent aim at developing their high-end tourism industries and creating a hub for some kind of non-oil business - be it finance or flowers. And such ambition demands a state-of-the-art airport.


Always a tale of two cities, the story of the emirates' airport plans is no different. The $4,200 million expansion of Dubai International Airport is following the pattern of the tourist developments it will serve. Hugely expensive and ambitious, the programme, overseen by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), is moving forward on schedule. Bids are due in mid-August for the biggest package - known as AX 059 - on the expansion, covering the finishes and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) works for terminal 3, concourse 2 and the car parking structure. The contract is worth an estimated $800 million, outstripping package AX 058, for structural works on the same facilities, which went to the local/UK Al-Naboodah Laing O'Rourke in July 2003 for about $540 million. Continuing the innovative theme, the DCA also plans to create an independent body to manage the expansion and to seek private finance. In June, Dubai Islamic Bank was mandated by the DCA to arrange a $750 million issue of the Islamic leasing sukuk instrument - the biggest ever in the Gulf - to help fund the project.

In Abu Dhabi, an estimated $600 million expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport is proceeding less smoothly. Plans for a new terminal are under review, although three international teams submitted bids for the main construction package in 2003. A new airline, Etihad Airways, was launched in November 2003, and is owned by the Abu Dhabi government. Initially modest plans to acquire six aircraft by the end of 2004 seemed unlikely to make many headlines. But, in late March, Etihad chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saif al-Nahyan announced plans to increase the carrier's fleet to 50 aircraft over the next five years. The airport expansion review is understood to be looking at tailoring the new facilities to accommodate the Etihad expansion. There is also talk of shifting project responsibility away from the DCA.


After several false starts for expansion of Doha's existing airport, the US' Bechtel in late 2003 completed a masterplan for a grassroots facility and in January was rewarded with the engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) contract. There is no lack of ambition. The estimated $2,500 million - in the first phase alone - project calls for construction of New Doha International Airport (NDIA), w

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