Top Middle East airports

Governments are investing billions of dollars to modernise the region's hubs.
Dubai International Airport.
Dubai International Airport.
Dubai International Airport.
Dubai International Airport.
Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Sharjah International Airport.
Sharjah International Airport.
Kuwait International Airport (KIA).
Kuwait International Airport (KIA).
Bahrain International Airport.
Bahrain International Airport.


To keep pace with the Middle East aviation industry's rapid growth, governments are investing billions of dollars to modernise the region's leading hubs. Aviation Business profiles 8 of the area's busiest facilities.

Dubai International Airport


"Emirates is certainly exploiting Dubai's position with their new aircraft orders and I really do believe that they're a bit like a super nova. "

Dubai International is connected to more than 205 destinations across six continents and was named the world's fastest growing airport in 2007. Expanding at an average rate of more than 15% annually since 2002, the airport now accounts for some 27% of all traveller and aircraft movements in the Middle East and Africa.

Last August, the airport had a record month for passenger figures, with more than three million people travelling through.

The airport handled some 33.5 million travellers in 2007, exceeding early estimates for the year by three and a half million. Elsewhere, airport movements have also climbed considerably during the past six months, with Dubai International handling 260,530 movements, a 9.8% increase from 2006.

Mohammed Ahli, director general of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and CEO of air traffic services, believes the 'open skies' policy has contributed to the hub's traffic growth.

New airlines are constantly launching routes to Dubai, with 120 flying to the emirate by the end of 2007. Dubai International CEO Paul Griffiths argues that Dubai's enviable global position and established national carrier makes continued expansion inevitable.

"Emirates is certainly exploiting Dubai's position with their new aircraft orders and I really do believe that they're a bit like a super nova," he says.

"They've managed to suck in every single bit of traffic in the region; there's hardly an airline on the globe that hasn't lost market share to Emirates in some way or another. As the enabling facility here, able to support Emirates, I believe we're well placed to do that."

The airport's expansion plans include construction of a new terminal and two airside facilities, one of which is specifically designed for Emirates' planned fleet of Airbus A380s. Costing an estimated US$4.5 billion, Terminal 3 is expected to open in mid-2008 and offer passengers various luxuries including lounges and restaurants.

In addition, a new baggage handling system is under development, which will be the largest in the world. The airport's management believes the new system will be capable of handling around 15,000 items of baggage per hour.

Griffiths says: "The new terminal is progressing very well, but there's clearly an awful lot to do and we've a tough deadline to open it this summer. I think our challenge is to continue to deliver growth at this airport at a speed that will not constrain the growth of Emirates Airline."

He adds that Dubai International's management aims to double the hub's passenger figures before the new airport, Al Maktoum International, opens.

Further plans for Dubai International include revamping the restaurants and shopping centres, speeding up check-in processes and improving service and capacity. Safety and security is another area that the airport's management is looking to improve without disrupting the passengers.

RAK International Airport

The hub is located 40 minutes away from Dubai, and facilitates 197,545 passengers annually. Ras Al Khaimah International Airport is one of the fastest growing in the Middle East, with the introduction of new national carrier RAK Airways expected to further increase the hub's passenger traffic.

Michelle Soliman, CEO of RAK Airport, says: "We are currently in the process of expanding our passenger terminals. We are creating a new arrivals terminal and refurbishing our existing terminal to serve as the new departures terminal. We are also in the process of constructing a new cargo warehouse, which will be operational in June 2008."

Later this year, RAK will be opening its South Western Precinct to aviation academies, such as Dubai Aerospace Enterprises and Indian Aviation Academy. In addition, an aircraft parking expansion and parallel taxiway network are in the pipeline.

Some 27 airlines operate passenger and cargo services to the airport, linking it with destinations across the Middle East, Central Asia, Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Far East.


"0In 2007, the airport registered record-breaking passenger figures. Handling 730,404 passengers in December alone, Abu Dhabi experienced a 40.4 % rise from the previous year."

In late November last year, Condor, one of the world's leading tourist airlines, launched flights to Ras Al Khaimah and promoted the emirate as a popular tourist and business destination.

HE Sheikh Salem Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, vice chairman of RAK International Airport, says: "The launch of Condor's service to RAK is a major step in our efforts to act as a tourism and business facilitator for the emirate. RAK International Airport is steadfast in its commitment to develop such tie-ups with other top carriers worldwide, which will help us promote RAK as a top business and tourism destination in the region."

He adds that management is satisfied with the airport's development.

"In view of the increasingly competitive business environment for the airport industry, we are continuously strengthening our competitiveness. Having a modern airport with regular connections to major international flights is a key part of this strategy."

Abu Dhabi International Airport

Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) assumed responsibility for the operation and management of Abu Dhabi International Airport in September 2006.

ADAC was granted the right to manage the airport as part of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan's vision to expand the city's aviation services.

In 2007, the airport registered record-breaking passenger figures. Handling 730,404 passengers in December alone, Abu Dhabi experienced a 40.4 % rise from the previous year.

The rapid expansion of the UAE's national carrier, Etihad Airways, has been a major contributing factor towards the airport's development.

Other airlines that have launched flights to Abu Dhabi, such as Oman Air, Ethiopian Airlines and Sama, have also helped increase traffic through the area.

Recently, the airport unveiled its newly refurbished Terminal 1 building. Decorated with a range of posters and artwork, the installations were designed to reflect the city's character.

Further expansion plans include opening a third terminal to accommodate five million travellers each year.

The US$273,000,000 project, which will be used primarily for Etihad passengers, will feature premium class lounges and an enhanced luxury duty free.

Last month, the airport scooped an award for baggage reclaim efficiency at the inaugural Middle East and North Africa airport awards.

ADAC chairman HE Khalifa Al Mazourei says: "Our aim at the airport is to make it easy for passengers and provide a safe, clean and efficient environment for them to pass through."

Sharjah International Airport

Renowned for its lush landscaping and attractive architecture, Sharjah International Airport is located 10km from the city centre.

The airport, which now handles 1800 aircraft and 100,000 passengers each month, was established in 1932 as a stopover for flights to India and Australia.

With seaports located on both sides of its coast, the airport is a popular transhipment point. Cargo can be transported into the local seaports and flown out of the airport in six hours.


"The airport is home to the Hajj terminal, specifically designed to cater for passengers travelling to Mecca during the pilgrimage season."

Dr Ghanem Al Hajri, director general of Sharjah Airport Authority, says the hub's management is focused on providing safety, comfort and quality to all customers.

Operating an 'open skies', open grounds policy, Sharjah is aiming to expand and increase its traffic figures in the coming years.

In late 2007, the airport announced plans to raise US$500 million to expand its terminal or develop a new runway. The extension will accommodate the growing numbers of passengers carried by Air Arabia and other smaller airlines regularly flying to the area.

Kuwait International Airport

The Iraqi invasion in 1990 caused more than US$330 million worth of damage to Kuwait Airport's infrastructure. After only 12 months, the airport resumed full service and has since undergone rapid growth in recent years.

In 2003, the airport's services were improved following a two stage, US$60 million passenger terminal expansion. The first phase included a spacious shopping centre and expansive new car parking facilities.

The second phase saw 64 fully automated check-in facilities, a modern baggage handling system and children's play area built.

Kuwait International experienced a record breaking rise in traffic during 2007, with 6,894,083 passengers travelling through. The passenger figure rise is attributed to the large volume of airlines expanding their operations in the region.

Indeed, Kuwait Airways Corporation (KAC) is one carrier that has extended its operation, having launched flights to Hyderabad and restarted services to Casablanca and Malaga.

In addition, the carrier has increased flight frequencies to Ahmedabad, Kuala Lumpur, Assiut, Cochin, Dhaka, Manila and Geneva. Last year, the airline was accountable for 31% of total aircraft movements.

Elsewhere, Jazeera Airways has introduced several popular holiday destinations, including the Maldives. It has also contributed to the airport's growth, accounting for 14% of KIA's traffic.

The number of commercial arrivals and departures rose by 14% in 2007 to 57,004 movements, accounting for 68% of the airport's total traffic. Non-commercial operations rose by 23%, increasing the overall growth of aircraft movements to 17%.

Bahrain International Airport

Bahrain International Airport is rapidly becoming a popular destination for various airlines, after establishing itself as a gateway to the Northern Gulf. In the 12 months to November 2007, Bahrain International received 4,105,365 passengers.

With the introduction of the kingdom's second national carrier, Bahrain Air, traffic figures are set to soar even higher.

British Airways, Cathay Pacific and KLM are just some of the 35 international airlines that fly to Bahrain, with national carrier Gulf Air responsible for 52% of overall movements. Operating 377 international flights per week, the resulting increase in passenger traffic has been rapid.

Terminal facilities are constantly being changed and improved. A first and business class check-in lounge was recently introduced, providing customers with quiet check-in and immigration facilities.

The airport is also home to an award-winning shopping mall and several recently constructed car parks, built to accommodate the increasing flow of passengers.

In addition, a new e-gate has been implemented, which will enable travellers to use their smart cards instead of passports.

Shaikh Ahmed bin Isa Khalifa says the new service will significantly accelerate check-in times. "One of the most important features of the e-gate is that it is provided free of charge, compared to other GCC countries," he adds.

Plans for the future include a major terminal building expansion to provide eight additional air bridges and more aircraft parking stands. By 2015, this US$350 million scheme will facilitate the airport's estimated 15 million passengers each year.

King Abdul Aziz International Airport

Located in Jeddah near the city of Mecca, King Abdul Aziz International Airport serves some 13 million passengers each year.

The airport is home to the Hajj terminal, specifically designed to cater for passengers travelling to Mecca during the pilgrimage season.

The tent-shaped building is estimated to be five million sq ft, making it the world's second largest air terminal.

It can accommodate some 80,000 passengers at any one time and has its own mosque.

To facilitate simultaneous takeoffs and landings by large aircraft, the airport has two parallel runways, separated by 2,146 metres of space.

Future expansion plans, funded by a US$1.5 billion agreement with the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority, include extending the southern terminal and constructing two new ones.

In addition, there will be a 25 gate concourse; three connecting buildings; a two-storey car park capable of accommodating 5,700 cars; passenger bridges and landslide and airside infrastructure facility upgrades.

When the costly project is complete in 2010, the airport will have increased its passenger capacity to 21 million.

King Fahd International Airport

Dammam-based King Fahd International Airport was opened in 1999 by the Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.

It facilitates nearly 12 million passengers annually, with commercial passenger traffic accounting for the vast majority.

The airport is home to two terminals, one for Saudi Arabia's national carrier and another for foreign airlines.

The west terminal, which was the first to be constructed, can handle some 16 million passengers.

King Fahd also houses a three-level car park, capable of accommodating nearly 5000 cars, a mosque and royal terminal.

The launch of budget airline Sama has helped attract more passengers to the Kingdom, according to Sama CEO Andrew Cowen.

He adds: "We are perhaps in a bit of a better position in terms of our market. Saudi Arabia is a lot bigger than other countries in the Middle East. We're bringing all sorts of innovations that this market hasn't seen before, for example, online bookings."

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