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Airport hopping on the horizon

As Ajman throws its hat into the airport ring, plans for a feeder airport network could be on the cards.

The UAE is set to see the construction of a new airport in the small emirate of Ajman in March 2004 after officials from the London-based, airline consultancy, Wiggins Group confirmed that a US $800 million tender could be issued during 2003.

While the project was initially signed a year ago, the land survey was not completed until recently, thus enabling the Wiggins Group to submit a master plan to the Ajman government.

“We’ve had a successful meeting with the Ajman government officials and have their go ahead to work on the detailed design, which should be finalized in the coming months,” said Olivier Iny, Wiggins’ chief executive.

According to the plans the airport will cater to about two million passengers stretching over eight kilometers. It will comprise a 4,000m runway, two taxiways, several boutique hotels, as well as tourism facilities. The first phase of the construction is expected to take about 18 months, with commercial flights possibly beginning as early as 2006.

“A lot of work has to be done on the landscaping as it is totally barren land, to ensure foreign particles do not fly onto the runway. The airport will be built in phases and, as we progress, we will add on the buildings, terminals and other facilities to support the growth,” said Ramesh Vadgama, airport architect.

With the aviation industry going through its worst period in history and uncertainty in the Middle East ever present following the conflict in Iraq, building a new regional airport could appear a little premature.

Additionally other UAE emirates such as Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Ain have all recently undertaken airport development projects, which could signal a sign of the market becoming saturated.

However, with Dubai forecasting 30 million passengers by 2010, the smaller emirates are hoping to benefit from the spillover effect. Manfred Manburger, aviation analyst agrees with this, adding;

“I don’t think there are too many airports in the region, Fujairah has developed its business in the sea-air cargo, Ras al Khaimah has developed a little niche for itself as ex-Soviet Union business, so if they do their marketing intelligently, they all will have a little niche.”

Awni Abu-Taha, vice-president, for the Middle East and Far East, at Wiggins Group stressed that the response he received at the recent Airport Build and Supply Exhibition in Dubai had encouraged him develop the regional airport network.

“We see this [Ajman] as a feeder to the main airports. We call this concept Planestation where we link our airports around the world,” he told Arabian Business.

The thinking behind this network is to make the Middle East a central link in a global network of regional airports, with the objective of opening up untapped routes, reducing flight delays and generating new business and jobs.

While Ajman is the first such airport in the Middle East, the project could see as many as eleven regionally and thirty on a global level by 2007.

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