INTERVIEW: Engineer Muhammad Abed, Jeddah Airport
Developments at King Abdulaziz International Airport will transform Jeddah into a regional aviation superhub, explains director general Engineer Muhammad Abed.
What is the current status of King Abdulaziz International Airport?
The airport has emerged as one of Saudi Arabia’s leading aviation hubs, with a focus on serving the commercial centre of Jeddah, while also providing an entry point into Makkah and Madinah, the two holy cities of Islam. At the moment, the airport covers around 105 square kilometres, with three terminals, three parallel runways and facilities for business aviation and cargo operations. We are also the home base for Saudi Arabian Airlines, which has a major stake in airport facilities and has been undergoing its own transformation from legacy carrier to commercially-driven and focused airline.
What prompted the decision to establish a brand new terminal?
The annual capacity of our north and south terminals is nine million passengers, which takes into account an expansion around three years ago. However, according to the latest statistics that we received, approximately 20 million passengers were handled in a 12-month period, which is much higher than our capacity. It was therefore essential to develop a new terminal. Luckily a significant amount of land is available for the project, which will be located between the east and centre runways, without making an impact on current operations.
Do you have a timeframe for developing the new terminal?
Three development phases have been outlined and we expect to reach an ultimate capacity of 80 million annual passengers by 2035, using the existing three runways. The project will follow a ‘just in time’ approach, so after the first phase is completed and the maximum capacity of 30 million annual passengers has been reached, we will automatically start the second phase, with a capacity of 43 million passengers. After that is reached, the third phase will commence, leading to a capacity of 80 million annual passengers.
What will happen to existing terminals at the airport once the whole development is completed?
Operations at the Hajj terminal will not be impacted. In fact, we have an area of land available to further develop the terminal if volumes increase in the future. In addition, the Haramain High Speed Rail project, which is under construction, will provide a link between the airport and the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. In terms of the south terminal, this will be converted into a large-scale international cargo city, while the north terminal may be turned into a dedicated hub for low-cost carriers or perhaps we will establish offices there for airlines and other partners.
Have carriers such as Saudi Arabian Airlines been consulted about the airport development?
We have formed a special committee, named Airport Operations Readiness (AOR), where stakeholders such as Saudi Arabian Airlines were encouraged to participate in the development from day one. I am sure we will benefit from the expertise of stakeholders and it’s important to understand their requirements too. By addressing our capacity limitations, the project will also create opportunities for new airlines to be welcomed. We have a waiting list at the moment and have been talking to those carriers about the project too.