• Gaca is executing more than $12bn-worth of projects to cope with demand
  • Private partnership a key component of future strategy
  • Religious tourism and young population’s travel demand among key drivers

The number of passengers travelling through Saudi Arabia’s airports reached 74.7 million in 2014, marking a 10 per cent uplift from the previous year. It also exceeded by 37 per cent the forecast passenger traffic in the kingdom’s development plan for 2010-14.

While the 2014 growth in passengers is slower than those recorded in previous years, which reached a high of 19 per cent, the latest data highlights the urgency for the kingdom to continue expanding its capacity to eliminate congestion and overcrowding at its major airports.

The General Authority of Civil Aviation (Gaca) is currently executing an estimated $12bn-worth of expansion, renovation and new airport projects across the country.

Jeddah airport

One of these is the ongoing $7.2bn renovation of the kingdom’s largest and busiest international airport, Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International airport (KAIA).  Set for completion next year, the work involves the overhaul of an existing terminal and the construction of a new one complete with a new general aviation terminal, a control tower, aircraft hangars, a railway station, parking for 8,200 cars, desalination plants and other associated facilities.

This project is the first of three phases for which the total budget is expected to reach some $28bn and which will increase KAIA’s passenger capacity from the current 13 million to 80 million by 2035.

Gaca also awarded a $667m contract to build a new domestic airport in Jizan in 2014, which will be able to accommodate up to 2.4 million passengers a year upon its completion in 2018.

In addition, some $2bn-worth of projects are currently planned to rehabilitate nearly a dozen of the kingdom’s 23 domestic airports. Two of these projects, designed to expand and upgrade the Al-Baha and Al-Jouf airports, are currently being tendered and are due for award during the course of 2015.

Driving factors

Some of the key factors driving airport traffic growth in the kingdom are the rise in regional and international travel, a young population with a strong appetite to travel for business and leisure, and religious tourism.

The government response to this accelerating demand has gone beyond building larger airports and for the state-backed carrier, Saudi Airlines, to procure more planes to the provision of an integrated transport infrastructure that includes building extensive rail and bus networks as well.

The kingdom has also began gradually shifting its strategy by tapping the private sector to fast-track the development of new airports and improve the management and operation of existing ones.

The first airport to be redeveloped using the public-private partnership (PPP) model in Saudi Arabia and across the GCC, Medina’s Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz airport, was completed on schedule and entered full operations in the beginning of June.

A second airport utilising the PPP model is currently being planned in Taif, which will become the kingdom’s fifth international airport upon completion.

Operations and management

Gaca has also recently completed separate six-year contracts with two international firms for the operations and management of ground-handling services for three of its international airports.

Germany’s Fraport began operating and running KAIA and Riyadh’s King Khaled International airport in 2008, while Singapore Changi Airports International has been operating Dammam’s King Fahd International airport from around the same year.

The main objectives of these partnerships are to improve operational efficiency, foster growth and introduce commercial opportunities to establish each airport as an independent company in view of eventual stock market listing. The management and operation of these airports has now been handed back to Gaca in line with the agreed contract provisions.

Key Saudi airport facts, 2014

  • Number of airports: 27 (four international, 23 domestic)
  • Total number of passengers: 74.7 million
  • Total number of flights: 589,216
  • Cargo: 1.02 million tonnes

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