Shifting Sands Create New Demand for Middle Eastern Airports

18 March 2010 (Last Updated March 18th, 2010 18:30)

Keith Mwanalushi offers an overview of Middle Eastern airport operations. Here we set the tone for his second instalment, an interview with a Middle Eastern company braving the economic storm and opening up a logistics company in Dubai.

Shifting Sands Create New Demand for Middle Eastern Airports

The oil-rich Middle East is pouring billions into ambitious airport developments. These super hubs have been designed with extra emphasis on increasing non-aeronautical revenue and developing integrated logistics platforms that add value to airport operations.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) figures indicate that air freight volumes in the Middle East increased by 21.4% towards the end of 2009 compared with the previous year. The logistics and air cargo markets seem to have pulled through the global economic slowdown. This will mandate facility enhancements, hence the need for airport infrastructural developments. One of the drivers for this sustainability is the increased use of Middle Eastern locations as hubs for cargo between Europe and Asia, and a transhipment point for cargo from Africa.

A Dubai-based business executive recently made an interesting remark, saying "any company that hasn't got this region or the greater region in their business plan actually needs to reconsider their strategy. There are two billion consumers from a number of growing economies."

Cargo super hubs

The new Doha International Airport (NDIA) in Qatar comes online in July 2011. The facility will handle 1.4 million tons of cargo a year, eventually increasing to about 2.5 million when the airport becomes fully operational in 2015. The site area of 22km² has the capacity for two runways, (4,850m and 4,250m), a mega terminal, more than 100 aircraft stands and a full range of airport support facilities.

Doha's new handling system will reportedly process and accommodate more than 1,000 main deck ULD containers and more than 5,000 individual consignments. The developers indicate that a sophisticated cargo warehouse information system (CWIS) will track and process cargo more efficiently than before. The cargo complex will also house other support facilities such as space for cargo agents and a live animal centre providing holding, veterinary and processing areas for animals shipped via
aircraft.

"The new Doha International Airport (NDIA) in Qatar comes online in July 2011."

Saudi Arabia is developing airport city projects at the kingdom's three international gateways in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, transforming them into economic zones.

The most vibrant transformation is the development at Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International. The project is being developed in three phases; phase one is to be completed in 2012, phase two in 2020 and phase three in 2035.

Jeddah's airport will initially have a 30-million-passenger capacity on an area of 687,000m² replacing the existing terminals. The project intends to transform the airport into a fully capable and state-of-the-art facility. The cargo depot will handle three million tons of freight per annum. The $2.6bn Jeddah Airport City will include the construction of other amenities including shopping malls, hotels, housing units and a flight academy.

The Saudi Arabian General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) will offer a 25-year build, operate and transfer contract for the development of the new Madinah Airport at a cost of up to $2.1bn. This will facilitate a capacity increase from three million to eight million passengers a year.

Support revenue

Not to be outshone, Bahrain International Airport (BIA) is undertaking a $334m redevelopment. The project is split into two four-year phases. Phase one is expected to be complete in 2013 and will see the addition of five million passengers to the current seven-million-capacity terminal. The airport design will allow for a 28-million-passenger facility by 2038.

BIA has been designed with several amenities that should win favour from travellers and the local population. An airport centre features a multistorey car park for 3,000 cars, improved from the current capacity of only 900. Retail shops, leisure areas and hotels will be incorporated into the development. Topping that, a cinema and swimming pool should seal the facility as a prime entertainment venue.

"Dubai is currently the top cargo destination in the UAE region."

Qatar's NDIA claims that on completion, it will operate one of the largest airport catering facilities in the world. It will be fully equipped with automated in-flight and bulk kitchen facilities covering about 65,000m² of food operations and production area for a daily meal production capacity of 85,000. NDIA states that the three-storey catering structure will be fitted with new technologies in cart transport systems, bin conveyers and storing and retrieval systems.

The Doha maintenance base will be capable of holding a maximum of eight wide-body and two narrow-body aircraft, with two positions capable of servicing the 560t A380.

Geographical challenges

The construction of these super structures in desert conditions presents its own challenges. The development taking place at Muscat International airport in Oman is just one example. The airport will have a new control tower and a second runway to be completed and operational by the end of this year. A passenger terminal and other facilities will be complete by the end of 2012 boosting passenger capacity to 12 million passengers.

One of the biggest challenges faced by engineers was to provide adequate drainage of the construction area. It seldom rains in Oman, but when it does, it pours.

One of the areas the rainwater collects on its way into the sea is a flat, low-lying area where the new runway is to be built. The ground has been raised by 3m to prevent the new runway and roads from ending up underwater. This has been achieved by driving almost 12 million cubic meters of desert sand and crushed rock to the site. Protecting the rest of the airport involved the installation of three giant outlets to the Bay of Oman with a combined capacity of 500m² of water a second.

"Bahrain International Airport (BIA) is undergoing a $334m redevelopment."

Dubai doesn't do small

Dubai is currently the top cargo destination in the region. Cargo volumes transported through Dubai International Airport were up 31.5% in January, 2010 against the previous year, according to the Dubai Airports Company. Passenger traffic also increased by 17% mainly aided by long-haul connecting traffic and industry observers believe freight uplift will grow as additional capacity comes online.

The bulk of this cargo movement will be handled at Dubai World Central (DWC), via the all-new $33bn Al Maktoum International Airport. It is scheduled to open initially for cargo operations in June this year. The "aerotropolis" includes the DWC aviation city and logistics city.

At full throttle, the airport will cater for 160 million passenger per annum and 12 million tons of cargo supported by 16 cargo terminals larger than Heathrow and Chicago O' Hare combined. The logistics city (DLC) is a giant free-zone that will cover all areas of logistics distribution, storage, air and sea freight, customs and assembly lines.