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Abu Dhabi has unveiled plans for a new airport to support the growth of Etihad and Gulf Air. The existing facility is also being expanded to provide some extra capacity as well.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  June 1, 2005

|~||~||~|Aviation in the UAE has been dominated by Dubai in recent years. However, neighbouring Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital, is now aiming to capture a larger chunk of the market. In 2003, the emirate launched an airline, Etihad Airways, to build on the services run out of Abu Dhabi by Gulf Air, and it has now finalised plans for a new airport, which will eventually be capable of handling 50 million passengers a year. Last year, just over five million passengers passed through Abu Dhabi, along with 163,769 tonnes of cargo. To make the leap to 50 million seems like a challenging task, especially given the fact that Dubai is building a new airport capable of handling 120 million passengers a year just 40 minutes’ drive away. However, the emirate is confident that it can grow its traffic enough to justify this extra capacity. “There will always be room for expansion in the region, especially in the United Arab Emirates,” says HE Dr. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saif Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Civil Aviation Department and chairman of Etihad Airways. “Last year, our traffic grew by 21%, and I am confident that the government is taking steps to encourage more traffic for both passengers and cargo, utilising the trading and tourist environment we have created and which is proving so successful. We are ideally located between East and West and we are offering a real quality of life for all visitors — something a little magical — so I am confident that we are expanding in the right direction,” he adds. “Since the initiation of Etihad Airways, the whole equation has changed,” agrees Mohamed Mounib, director, commercial development & marketing department, Abu Dhabi Civil Aviation Department. “We did have Gulf Air basing some of their flights in Abu Dhabi, but Etihad’s commitment to placing orders for aircraft, and their expansion plans are showing immediate results.” The launch of Etihad has clearly had a huge impact on Abu Dhabi airport. Passenger numbers were up more than 20% in 2004 on the year before, with cargo traffic rising by almost 16%, and the emirate is aiming to expand its role as a tourism and business centre. “Our hope is that Abu Dhabi develops all round… and that the importance the government has placed on the tourism sector will see this develop hand-in-hand with the development of the airport,” says Mounib. “Then, airlines will see a good reason to fly into Abu Dhabi.” “And, of course, the traffic growth will not just come from the national carriers, but from everybody else as well,” he adds. “The success we expect from Etihad and Gulf Air will draw in more airlines — not drive them away — and Abu Dhabi will become the gateway to a region.” “We are already seeing this happening,” Mounib adds. “I am in serious negotiations with airlines… that see the benefit of coming to us next winter. These airlines have looked at the situation, and said ‘okay, we decided to leave two years ago, but the environment now means we want to come back’.” ||**|||~||~||~|The new airport is due to open in 2008; however, the current facility is also being expanded to cope with the rising traffic volumes through the construction of a new terminal 1A and a new terminal 2. These two projects will raise the airport’s capacity from 5.2 million passengers per annum to 8 million, which will be enough to cope with the growth expected up to 2008. “The first reaction to [the growth] was that we should do something to cope temporarily with what is going to happen over the next three or four years,” says Mounib. “So, the decision was made to build Terminal 2 and it has also been decided to expand the existing terminal as well… which will then give us the breathing space we need for the next three years.” Terminal 1A, which will be connected to the existing terminal, will have two departure gates and a 150 m2 duty free area. The new terminal 2, meanwhile, will have three departure gates, each of which will have three aircraft stands, a 1000 m2 duty free area in the departures hall, and a further 200 m2 in the arrivals area. The airport is also expanding its cargo handling area to better support Etihad Crystal Cargo, as well as growing its catering operations so that 28,000 meals a day can be produced, up from the present capacity of 15,000. The airport is expecting all of the work, which also includes renovating the existing duty free area in terminal 1 and building nine new code E and F gates, to be completed by August. This is a tight deadline, but one that is needed so that the airport will be ready for the peak season. “However, when I say August, I do not mean that we just decided on all this just a couple of months ago,” notes Mounib. “The decision was made last year, and the contract was signed two months ago, and they [the contractors, Al Jaber Grinaker] will deliver in August. We need this, we need some credibility, and we need to ease the traffic in the summer,” he adds. Once the new terminals are built, all non-Abu Dhabi-based carriers will be moved to terminal 2, while Etihad and Gulf Air will remain in the existing facility. Such an arrangement should limit the need to bus passengers and baggage between the two terminals, which will be 700 m apart and unconnected. “Airlines that have a lot of transfers and hub operations will remain in terminal 1, while airlines that have terminating services will go to terminal 2,” explains Mounib. “With terminal 1A, we are planning to move one particular operation there, most probably Gulf Traveller. That is quite a bulky piece of business, with a lot of connections in it, and terminals 1 and 1A are joined together,” he adds. Also, in terminal 1, Etihad is developing a number of new passenger facilities to improve its service levels. “Etihad will soon open its new Diamond and Coral class lounges and the airport will also have new check-in lounges for Pearl, Coral and Diamond Class passengers,” says HE Sheikh Ahmed. “Our aim is to provide the highest standard of services and create a guest environment that is as relaxing as possible.” At the same time as expanding the current airport, work will also begin on building the new airport as well. This will be built on the opposite side of the runway to the current terminal, which means that the same runway can be used. A second 4.1 km runway will also be built on the other side of the new airport, so that the main building will sit between the two; there is also room for a third runway to be built further north in the future as well. US firm Parsons Corp. will manage the construction work for the new US $5.7 billion airport, with the masterplan design drawn up by New York architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. A design competition for the terminal buildings is expected to be launched in September.||**|||~||~||~|The work for the new airport will be divided into three separate phases. The first phase will create a capacity of 10 million passengers; however, if all three stages are completed, then the airport will have a total capacity of 50 million passengers per year, 10 times the size of the current facility. The central terminal will have 80 contact gates, including a number designed to handle Eithad’s A380s. These aircraft, which will be delivered from the end of 2007, will initially use the second runway and then taxi across the midfield to terminal 1 where a temporary pier will be built. Once runway 1 has be widened, the superjumbos will be able to land on either runway with passengers boarding and disembarking at the new terminal. The new airport plans also include a sizeable commercial development, a free zone and new catering, cargo and line maintenance facilities. Furthermore, once commercial operations move to the new facility in 2008, other users of the airport will also be able to expand their operations. GAMCO, the MRO based there, has already drawn up plans to double its capacity, including the construction of new hangars to handle Boeing 777s and Airbus A380s. (The MRO’s first A380 hangar opened two years ago.) The expansion will also see the MRO take over the apron currently used by commercial carriers at terminal 1. Abu Dhabi Aviation, which operates oilfield services with aircraft and helicopters, will also expand its operations, while business jet operator Royal Jet is building a new VIP terminal with six separate lounges and seven BBJ-sized hangars. The current terminal 1 will also remain, but it is not yet clear what it will be used for. It could be used for charter flights, or it might be converted for another purpose, such as a museum. Despite supporting a range of users, the success of the new airport and the expansion of the current facility will mainly depend upon the growth of commercial traffic, particularly from the hub carriers. Generating the required number of passengers will be difficult though, given Gulf Air’s split between three hubs, Etihad’s small size and youth, and the competition in the region from Dubai, Bahrain and elsewhere. However, the emirate believes it will be able to successfully compete against its rivals in the Gulf. “The modern facilities of the main airport, the high level of efficiency and our supreme welcome for guests will be our main differentiating factors. They will give us the edge to compete with all other airports in the region,” says HE Sheikh Ahmed.||**||

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