King Khaled International Airport is located 35km north of Saudi Arabia’s capital city Riyadh. It was designed by the US-based architecture-engineering firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK).
When the airport opened in 1983, it became the largest in the world in terms of ground area, originally covering 225km², only to be surpassed in 1999 by another Saudi Arabian airport, Dammam’s King Fahd International.
With a total of four terminals, one of the world’s tallest air control towers, a mosque and two parallel 4,205m-long runways, King Khaled Airport serves as the gateway to Saudi Arabia’s largest city.
The new Terminal 5 was inaugurated in 2016 to handle more than 12 million passengers per year.
King Khaled International Airport expansion project
The joint venture of Hochtief, Shapoorji Pallonji Mideast and Nahdat Al Emaar was selected as the technical and commercial lead of the expansion project in June 2015. The $1.45bn contract includes the redesign, upgrade and expansion of Terminals 3 and 4, and demolition and refurbishment of the other airport infrastructure.
Demolition and removal work was completed by November 2019. The underground service tunnel under the tarmac T is also completed and the project rate completion was 11.65% in November 2019.
The project is a part of the Riyadh Development Projects and includes 14 travel gates and 80 check-in counters. It also includes 30 counters for departure and 48 counters for passport control.
The expansion is part of a larger $4.4bn development and expansion programme by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
Design of King Khaled International Airport
King Khaled Airport is designed with all four terminals within one main building, which are connected to each other by three linking buildings. Each building is 168m in length.
Each of the triangular-shaped terminals has eight gates, which all have air bridges installed to facilitate transfers between the terminal buildings and waiting aircraft. The triangular base of each terminal measures 47,500m².
The airport is currently operated by the international airport management company Fraport AG, which is most well-known for managing Frankfurt Airport.
King Khaled International Airport has witnessed a steady increase in passengers during the last two decades. In 1998, it handled just more than eight million passengers and had 60,000 aircraft movements.
By 2003, this figure had almost doubled to more than 14 million passengers and 124,516 aircraft movements. The airport handled 18.58 million passengers, marking an 8.9% increase over the previous year, in addition to 160,000 aircraft movements in 2013.
Terminals of the Saudi Arabian airport
Two of King Khaled’s four terminals are currently used for international flights, one for domestic routes and the other remains unused.
Terminal 1 is used for international flights by a number of major airlines, including Air France, Air India, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.
Terminal 2 is for the sole use of Saudi Arabia’s national carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines. It operates to destinations such as Abu Dhabi, Athens, Delhi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Paris, New York and Singapore.
Terminal 3 is used for domestic flights, predominantly by Saudi Arabian Airlines, but also by low-cost carriers such as Nas Air and Sama Airlines. The terminal complex also includes restaurants, airline offices, government departments, hotels, banks commercial shops and a modern VIP terminal. Heads of state or other high-ranking VIP visitors are greeted in the Royal Pavilion, which features fountains, garden areas and a 12.5m-wide ceremonial hall.
A general aviation complex has also been built north of the first runway for use by private aircraft, which can be reached by a special access road that runs from the airport access highways. The complex includes a passenger terminal, aircraft parking and maintenance facilities.
Terminal 3 is closed for renovations and it provided service to all Saudi and Flynas domestic flights until Terminal 5 was opened for operations. Terminal 3 will be converted to an international terminal.
Terminal 5 is used for domestic flights and links with five different destinations in Saudi Arabia.
The first phase of the development projects for indoor parking at Terminal 5 was completed in October 2019. Riyadh Airports inaugurated the Model Cargo Village in the support area at the airport in January 2020.
Distinctive features at King Khaled Airport
King Khaled Airport possesses one of the world’s tallest air control traffic towers. Standing 81m tall, the tower has 19 separate storeys, including an operations area on its base level that has a total of 1,230m² of floor space.
One of the airport’s most defining features is a mosque located in the centre of the passenger terminal. Capable of accommodating 5,000 worshippers inside and another 5,000 in its outside plaza, the mosque has a dome measuring 33m in diameter and several towers that are 44m in height.
Also notable is the airport’s 500,000m² of landscaping, which includes more than 225,000 trees, vines, shrubs and ground cover plants. All the plants selected for the site are tolerant to the region’s arid climate.
Future developments at King Khaled International Airport
In August 2008, the GACA signed a consultancy contract with Netherlands Airports Consultants BV (NACO). The Dutch airport consultancy firm, which has been present in the region for 40 years, has been employed to help determine the technical and strategic guidelines for future improvements at both King Khaled Airport and King Fahd International Airport in Dammam.
The plan involves increasing the capacity at the airport from its current capacity of 14 million passengers a year to 40 million passengers by 2038. It is part of Saudi Arabia’s much broader goal of becoming a major aviation gateway for both domestic and international demand.
In January 2013, global architect HOK and NACO’s Saudi Arabian branch SADECO were awarded a design-build contract for the expansion of Terminals 3 and 4 of the airport. This expansion was made to increase the airport’s capacity to handle between 20 and 25 million passengers a year.
A joint venture between AECOM Technology Corporation and other partners was awarded a $72m five-year contract for the expansion of the terminals in March 2013. AECOM provided programme support, project and construction management services under the contract.
By expanding its three major airports in Damman, Jeddah, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia hopes to have a combined future capacity of 140 million passengers each year, in order to support its rapidly expanding population and oil-strong economy.
The airport launched the new private aviation terminal in December 2018 and it is expected to handle the increased number of passengers. The new private aviation terminal occupies an area of 2,617m² and it has doubled the airport apron area to accommodate more aircraft.
The joint venture of ACC and TAV Construction was awarded a $400m design and construction contract for the Terminal 5 in May 2013. Work was expected to be completed by June 2015.
Work included the construction of a 100,000m² terminal building area, a 90,000m² multi-storey car parking with 3,000 spaces, a fire station, an operation centre, elevated roads, apron and airside facilities.
Turkish firm Akfa Contracting was awarded a $109m contract for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing works on Terminal 5 in July 2014.