Middle East Review

Cairo has had many improvements over the last decade, but improvement work continues. (Ron Kuhlmann)

Tom Allett provides a round-up of news and views from the Middle East.

Cairo has had many improvements over the last decade, but improvement work continues. (Ron Kuhlmann)

Despite the oil reserves that have made the region home to some of the richest countries in the world, the global economic downturn experienced recently has hit home just as hard in the Middle East as anywhere else.  Even some of the most prestigious airport projects have been delayed by the worldwide recession, but here, as in most other places you might care to name, the aviation industry’s resilience is strong enough to ensure that progress is being made.
Among the best examples are the US$10.9 billion expansion of King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which continues to push ahead; Qatar, which is investing a similar amount on its New Doha International Airport, and Bahrain International Airport, which will double in size when the current US$817m expansion is completed.
Other noteworthy plans include six more regional airports for Oman with a total spend of around US$3 billion, while Kuwait is investing almost US$2.2 bn to expand its international airport.
Perhaps the best indicator of the region’s airport industry health though is just how many tenders are currently up for grabs.  Although not comprehensive, the following does provide some insight into the number and breadth of projects presently out to tender.
Great progress has been made at Egypt’s premier international gateway during the last decade (and for a more detailed explanation see Ron Kuhlmann’s article on page 10 of this issue).  In order to fulfil Cairo’s new goal of being the hub for Africa, the state-owned and -run airport has worked with the government-owned carrier to develop its operations and structure.  While each partner has its own goals, staff and budget, both are subsidiaries of the Egyptian Ministry of Transport, creating the synergies that derive from a shared owner.
Despite all that has already been done, improvement work continues and a new tender has recently been issued to renovate Cairo’s Terminal 2.
In February, The Tripoli Airport Development Project called for interested companies to compete for the design and construction of two new terminal buildings with a capacity to handle 20 million passengers per year.  Specifications laid down within this project include 160 check-in counters, 12 baggage handling carousels, 64 mobile and 32 fixed boarding bridges, 48 lifts and 26 elevators.
Plans moving forward in Oman include Phase 2 of an airside infrastructure project as Ras Al Hadd Airport.  A tender is currently out for the development of airside facilities.  These call for the construction of a 2.5 mile (4km)-long, 246ft (75m)-wide runway, a taxiway, an apron and car park.
Also up for grabs are contracts for improvements at the country’s Salalah International Airport.  Requirements include the construction of a new terminal that will be relocated to the north of the existing runway.  The building will cover a floor area of 376,700 sq ft (35,000m2) and requires eight passenger boarding bridges, a car park for up to 1,900 vehicles.  Upgrades to its runway and taxiway systems are also out for tender.
The construction of Qatar’s flagship facility, the New Doha International Airport has been ongoing for several years now and has involved an enormous amount of work to reclaim land from the sea.  The latest stage, Phase 3a, is now underway and a tender is out for the design and construction of the north node, a two-track people moving system.  There are also plans to develop a new commercial area and extend the main terminal building.
Saudi Arabia
The huge redevelopment of King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah has already been mentioned, but less well known is the Najran Airport upgrade and expansion project.  As this edition went to press, tenders were still open for the design and construction of new terminal building, as well as to enhance the existing 1.8m (3km) runway and its airfield lighting system.
In addition, redevelopment at the country’s Hail Airport calls for a capacity expansion to approximately 1.5 million passengers a year, representing a growth of around 50%.  At the same time, a cargo facility capable of handling 150,000 tonnes of air cargo per year will be provided.
Over at the Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdul Aziz Airport, a tender has been issued that calls for the design and construction of a 13,120ft (4,000m) runway that can take aircraft up to and including Boeing 747s.  Other requirements include an airfield lighting system, a new ramp area and other airside infrastructure.
Abu Dhabi
In terms of airport development, Abu Dhabi (IATA AUH) was very much in the shadow of its Dubai neighbour a decade ago.  Today Abu Dhabi occupies a very different position, pushing forward with its own large-scale development plans.  Its international airport was ranked top in eight customer service categories in a recent ACI survey of the Middle East Region.  More specifically, AUH excelled in categories that demonstrate the efficiency of the airport, the services offered and the helpfulness of the staff.
Abu Dhabi scored very highly in ACI’s recent Middle East survey. (ADAC)

Commenting on this, Ahmad Al Haddabi, Senior Vice President of Airports Operations for ADAC said: “Naturally, we thank our customers and passengers for affording us these ratings; they clearly vindicate the hard work of all our staff and related agencies at the airport who are striving to ensure Abu Dhabi offers some of the world’s best airport environments.  I thank and congratulate the whole team for their continued efforts and can promise our customers we will continue to work even harder during the coming year.”
Its management, the Abu Dhabi Airports Company was ranked ‘Number one in the Middle East’ for least waiting time at check-in, passport and security inspection; for the courtesy and helpfulness of inspection staff; for its restaurant and eating facilities (including value for money) and for its Internet access and Wi-Fi facilities.
Without doubt, Dubai’s current (IATA DXB) and future main airport have grabbed the biggest headlines in recent years, both good and bad.  When the economy was powering forward just a few years ago, it was consistently amongst the fasting-growing airports in the world, but when global economies were hit by recession even prosperous Dubai suffered and the slow-down there has been significant.
However, the recent traffic level increases at Dubai International would appear to show that the Emirate’s economic fortunes are picking up again.  More than 3.86 million passengers passed through its terminals in January 2010, compared to 3.39 million in January 2009, a rise of approximately 17%.  This marks the eighth consecutive month of double-digit passenger traffic growth there and the highest single month passenger total ever recorded at Dubai International.
Dubai’s Terminal 3 is amongst the Middle East’s most prestigious projects to have been completed recently. (Dubai Airports)

Cargo continued its strong upward trend with the fourth consecutive month of double-digit increases and freight volumes leaping up 31.5%.  Dubai Airports Cargo handled 171,453 tonnes of freight in January 2010 compared to 130,375 tonnes during the same month in 2009.  As you all know, air freight traffic is widely viewed as a leading indicator of economic activity.
Commenting on the situation in February, the CEO of Dubai Airports, Paul Griffiths, said: “Dubai is on the leading edge of a rebound in global air traffic.  Dubai International has been registering robust growth since the second quarter of 2009 when the industry’s key hubs were still recording negative growth.  Globally, recent IATA and ACI figures indicate the gradual return of passenger and cargo volumes as the world economy improves.  January’s impressive increases at Dubai International are a promising sign that an industry recovery is indeed underway.
“Freight growth is likely to continue throughout the rest of the year as additional capacity comes on line and global cargo movement picks up,” he added.  A portion of that traffic growth will be accommodated at Dubai World Central − Al Maktoum International when it opens in June for cargo operations.
According to ACI’s latest statistics, Dubai International leads the world’s top 50 airports in passenger traffic growth and it has also climbed two positions in as many months to become the world’s fourth busiest major airport for international passengers.  It is currently recognised as the fifth busiest hub for international cargo.
In 2009 overall, Dubai International recorded a 9.2% passenger traffic increase and 5.6% cargo growth compared to 3.5% downturn in international passenger traffic and 10.1% fall in international cargo volume globally as reported by IATA.
Again, according to ACI figures, in 2009, in terms of international passengers, the only other airports in the world’s top 50 busiest to record growth figures were Istanbul (6.3%), Kuala Lumpur (4.6%) and Cairo (1.5%).
Commenting on the airport’s current situation Mr Griffiths said: “There are a number of distinct advantages that ensure Dubai International’s growth.  Its location, which puts it just four hours’ flying time from one-third of the world’s population and 12 hours from 80% of the population; an open skies policy that welcomes competition, top-notch infrastructure and compelling tourist attractions.  All add up to make Dubai a very attractive hub for an ever-increasing number of travellers.
“We will continue to invest in the future to make sure that we are always able to accommodate more passengers, more flights and deliver a service quality that is world class,” said Griffiths.  “Dubai International has capacity for 60 million passengers per year, and that will increase to 75 million passengers when Concourse 3 is completed in 2012.”
Dubai Airports’ traffic forecast a 13.6% rise in international passenger traffic at DXB in 2010, translating into a throughput of 46 million passengers.
Meanwhile, development work continues at the nearby giant Al-Maktoum International Airport, which covers an area of approximately 54 sq miles (140km2).  Tenders are currently invited for a whole range of tasks involving both commercial and logistics requirements, including road and building construction.