UK-based Copperchase has received prequalification applications from 28 local and international contractors for the contract to build an airport terminal and an air traffic control (ATC) tower at Karbala International airport.

“We will direct negotiate with the three most successful applicants within four weeks and commence with the construction of the terminal by 1 July,” Nahidh Salih, chairman and director of Middle East Projects at Copperchase, tells MEED.

Copperchase will project manage and supervise the airport scheme with support from Manhal al-Haboubi Consultancy.

The first phase of the project entails the construction of a terminal with a capacity of two million passengers a year, expandable to four million. This phase of the project is expected to cost between $250m and $500m, with funds to be supplied by the finance arm of Iraq’s Imam Hussein Shrine Foundation. The construction is expected to take between 18 to 24 months.

Apart from project managing the construction of the terminal and the ATC, the UK-based firm will be constructing other elements of the airport including the runway, taxi way and aprons as well as the installation of Navaids, and other equipment at the ATC.

Salih said they are confident in the security situation in both Karbala and Najaf. “Copperchase has been working in Najaf for the last ten years without any problem or security issues. ”We built and recently handed over 3,000 affordable houses under the al-Ghadeer Village Project in Najaf recently,” he explains.

Copperchase has also been supplying different aviation services to international airlines at the existing airport in Karbala for four years now without encountering any single security problem in the area. “We can say we are very happy with the improvement of aviation sector in Iraq since we started in 2013,” he said.

The new airport will facilitate travel for millions of Shiite Muslims who travel to Karbala and Najaf, which they consider holy cities, every year. Most pilgrims are understood to come from Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and European countries.

Salih said he is aware of the plan to develop a cargo airport in the Diwaniya governorate, also in central Iraq. “I hope that the Diwaniya airport will move ahead as fast as the Karbala International airport project does… as we have seen in other countries, airports tend to integrate with one another,” he said.

Kuwait’s Al-Nasriyah al-Kuwaitiah won the 45-year concession for the airport development, with the construction contract for the airport expected to be awarded this year.