GCC on major airport expansion drive

Saudi Arabia leads with 20 new airports on the anvil
/ New Delhi
GCC on major airport
GCC on major airport expansion drive

Qatar has expanded its airport capacity to receive the rush of football fans for FIFA World Cup 2022

In order to ensure that transport infrastructure keeps pace with the rising number of tourists coming to the GCC countries, most destinations in the region are adding airport capacity or building many more airports.
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As part of its ambitious project of attracting 100 million tourists by the year 2030, Saudi Arabia has been on drive to develop travel and tourism infrastructure all over the country – from hotels, custom-designed destinations, heritage sites and without forgetting the crucial transport network including roads, ports and airports.

All of these activities have been progressing at breakneck speed across the Kingdom over the past three years and the pace is accelerating even further. And everything in Saudi Arabia is happening at a monumental scale. For instance, the country is currently developing 310,000 hotel rooms.

In terms of airports, its ambitions are no less grand. It is en route to adding as many as 20 airports across the large country and in order to boost connectivity. In aviation, Saudi Arabia is launching another airline, RIA, which will be placed in direct competition to the other Gulf global connectors like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad.

But airport build up will not be confined to Saudi Arabia alone, and what’s being planned or already worked on should keep aviation authorities in the UAE and Qatar quite busy. According to Abdo Kardous, President for Middle East operations at the project management consultancy Hill International, busy enough for the next 10 years, at the least.

“The biggest development is planned in Saudi Arabia with more than 20 new airports, many of them greenfield,” said Kardous. “Since the majority of Middle East nations kept airports open during Covid, offering as many flights as possible, the Gulf became a hub between the East and the West, taking advantage of the connectivity the region provides to multiple destinations. “Also, the visa-free entry requirements in the GCC has helped to strengthen the region’s position as a hub for travel and as a destination for short vacations.

Compared with the bottlenecks Europe’s major airports experienced this summer, it was relatively smooth in the GCC. “This will have a positive long-term impact to the GCC as travelers experienced first-hand the relative ease of transiting or transferring through the region, avoiding flight cancellations, airport capacity restrictions, travel disruptions and delays.”

Key airport expansion plans include Abu Dhabi which is operating with Terminal 3, but with the operationalisation of huge 750,000 sqm Midfield Terminal, capacity will be greatly enhanced, the Hill International official said.

Dubai is operating between Terminals, 1, 2 and 3 with two runways, while some flights are operating out of the Maktoum International Airport, which currently plans to have six runways. For the FIFA World Cup, Qatar has completed one of its planned expansions to Doha International Airport. Plans for Concourses D and E are under way.

In Egypt, plans to build Terminal 4 at Cairo International Airport is advancing, There will also be construction of new regional airports that will connect travelers directly with tourist destinations along the Nile River. “Several airports are operating close to pre-Covid levels. Many regional travellers are opting as well to fly rather than use various land modes of transport, primarily due to cost considerations,’’ says Kardous.

For Dubai, creating additional capacity within its aviation space is part of the normal, he says. “Automation will only increase at airports, to streamlining the flow of passengers and goods through airports. Technology will also lead to more sustainable facilities, as smart airports will reduce use of natural resources,” says Kardous.

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