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Growth a Challenge for Gulf Airports

Posted by vmsalama on June 3, 2008


by Vivian Salama

The National

DUBAI // Airports in the Middle East must expand and improve their infrastructure to handle the rapid growth in the number of aircraft and passengers they are accommodating, according to industry leaders.

Delegates attending the Airport Show also called on governments in the region to allow airports to operate at a profit to allow them to finance new infrastructure projects.

“Aviation infrastructure enhancement, regrettably, is still way off the top of most governments’ priority lists because it is either unpopular or too costly,” said Andreas Schimm, the director of economics and programme development for the Switzerland-based Airports Council International.

“Continued calls for lowering airport user charges are counterproductive; it undermines the financial basis for future airport development and, ultimately, the basis for growth of the entire aviation industry.”

Airports in Gulf countries are expected to be able to handle as many as 300 million passengers annually by 2015, three times the current volume, according to Mr Schimm, who added that the capacity could be exceeded as early as 2020.

Dubai has the fastest aviation growth rate in the world at 40 per cent higher than the current global average. High growth rates are also being recorded in cities like Abu Dhabi and Doha, which are becoming popular transit points.

Alan Bourjeily, the general manager of Bayanat, an engineering firm that works with a number of UAE airports, said they were straining under the unprecedented economic boom. “Dubai and Abu Dhabi … are promoting their cities more and so more passengers are coming – more than the airports can take. That’s why you have these fast-track projects, which is not an easy task and not always a good idea when it comes to such critical applications.”

Paul Griffith, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, added: “On the ground, we are balancing aggressive growth rates against a constrained campus at Dubai International Airport.” 

Dubai International Airport serves 205 destinations, more than London Heathrow, and passenger traffic is expected to exceed 40m this year. Traffic at Abu Dhabi International Airport is growing at more than 30 per cent per year and will top 10m passengers in 2010.

The US$6.8 billion (Dh24.97bn) project to expand the airport’s Terminal 3 is expected to provide only temporary relief. Likewise, the new $10bn Al Maktoum International Airport, has been designed to handle 120m passengers per year and is expected to be fully operational by about 2015.

Over the past few years regional airlines have ordered new aircraft in record numbers in preparation for rising demand.

This only exacerbates the problem, some industry leaders believe.“You can buy planes a lot faster than you can build terminals,” said Rudy Vercelli, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports Company. “Growth is coming a lot faster than we can develop infrastructure and that is the biggest challenge.” 

Airport officials also said issues ranging from roads and parking to faster check-in procedures must all be addressed as part of this push for better infrastructure. They are also calling for flexibility in assigning space for airlines and retail tenants, which influences how smoothly travellers can transit an airport.

“These are challenges not just to the airports, but to surrounding areas,” said Mr Griffiths.

Capital expenditure in the global airport sector has been increasing at about 10 per cent per year, according to Airports Council International.

It is further estimated that the cost required to expand airport facilities through 2020 would be close to $500bn, which is equivalent to the annual turnover of the entire global airline industry.



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