Qatar bolsters its airport capacity as passenger numbers rise


Located 16 km from central Doha and within six hours flying time of 80% of the world’s population, Hamad International Airport (HIA) has emerged as a key regional transport hub since opening its doors to the public in April 2014.

The airport’s infrastructure and facilities rank it among the most efficient and best reviewed globally, recording a 90.5% on-time departure performance in the fiscal year ending in March 2016, and received a five-star Skytrax rating in January 2017 – the first airport to receive the accolade regionally and only the sixth airport globally.

Existing capacity is 30m passengers a year, with plans to expand to 53m passengers by 2020, and ultimately to 65m annually. The 55,000-sq-metre cargo terminal was also designed with future expansion in mind, with capacity projected to rise from 1.4m tonnes per year to 2.5m tonnes upon full completion.

Because of record growth achieved by the national carrier Qatar Airways (QA), the airport exceeded its initial capacity within three years of operation. As a result, HIA is now engaged in an expansion programme, which aims to increase capacity, improve the product offering, redesign the operational processes to accommodate surging passenger traffic and upgrade services. “As the hub for the national carrier, the expansion of HIA will reflect the diversified fleet and rising passenger numbers of QA,” Badr Mohammed Al Meer, COO of HIA, told OBG.

Phase 1

Some 350 contracts were awarded for the original construction of the airport, employing 50,000 workers to build a 471,000-sq-metre terminal and 33 contact gates directly attached to the terminal building across concourses A, B and C, as well as several remote gates on the tarmac that use buses to bring passengers to the terminal.

Construction activities at the airport were managed by the New Doha International Airport Steering Committee on behalf of the facility owner, Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, with Qatar Investment Authority acting as project investor.

Building on 60% reclaimed land from the sea, the construction of the airport took 10 years and cost $15.5bn, well in excess of its original budget, according to industry media. Services and facilities include one of the largest free-span maintenance hangars in the world, a two-storey cargo facility, one of the world’s largest self-contained catering facilities and Qatar Duty Free, with more than 40,000 sq metres of combined retail and dining facilities.

Growth Drivers

Within three years of the airport commencing operations, passenger traffic at HIA had exceeded initial capacity by a significant margin, rising to 37.3m passengers and 245,800 landings and take-offs in 2016, increases of 20.5% and 15.8%, respectively, over 2015, according to official figures from the airport. Airfreight also grew by 20.8% during 2016 to reach a new record high of 1.7m tonnes for the year. Based on filed schedules by all airlines operating to and from HIA in 2016, passenger and cargo flight movement was expected to grow by more than 15% in 2017, from an average of 24 flights per hour to almost 28 flights. However, passenger numbers have fallen in 2017 as a result of the Saudi-led economic blockade.

To meet this higher demand and accommodate the anticipated surge in arrivals to Qatar that will accompany the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup – when peak daily passenger numbers are expected to reach a minimum of 86,000 – the ongoing expansion programme at the airport is meant to ensure that HIA’s capacity evolves to meet demand without compromising on quality of service delivery.

As with the development of the airport’s phase-1 development, expansion is also meant to support the growth of national carrier QA, which managed operations at HIA until February 2017 when the airport announced that it would henceforth operate as an independent entity under the Qatar Airways Group banner. QA now flies to more than 150 destinations worldwide following the inauguration of 14 new routes in 2016, and operates one of the youngest fleets in the sky, which includes the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus 380, and as the global launch customer, the Airbus A350 XWB.

The number of aircraft operated by the airline grew to 191 in 2016, with nearly 300 more airplanes on order in August of that year at a list price of more than $70bn, according to Akbar Al Baker, the airline’s CEO. QA will reportedly receive 23 wide-body planes in 2017, and its network will grow by 15 destinations in 2017/18, including destinations like Auckland, New Zealand and Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Recent Developments

To manage the increased passenger flows associated with the growth of QA and the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup, HIA opened operations at the north node of Terminal 1 in 2016, activating concourses D and E, adding eight new contact gates to the original 33 and increasing terminal and retail capacity by 130,000 sq metres.

To facilitate faster passenger movement within the terminal and address congestion issues related to current operational overcapacity, significant technological investments have also been undertaken, including the launch of the Smart Airport Programme in early 2016 aimed at facilitating the entry or exit process through self-service devices. As part of the initiative the Ministry of Interior has activated automated and biometrics-friendly e-gate services for resident expatriates in the departure and arrivals lounges across the airport.

HIA also launched dual passenger trains inside the airport terminal in November 2016, significantly reducing passenger travel time between the south and north nodes of the terminal, while enhancing the attractiveness of HIA’s transfer product. Each passenger train has five carriages, with a design capacity of 38 persons per carriage, which allows each train to transport up to 190 passengers at a time. The two passenger trains will run simultaneously in a synchronised manner with the train system remaining operational 24 hours a day.

Commenting on the impact of the expansion project, Badr Mohammed Al Meer, COO at HIA, told local media in May 2016, “With the activation of concourses D and E at HIA as well as the technological advancements being implemented in the terminal, we are in a position to handle more passengers, aircraft and cargo movements than ever before.”

Future Capacity Expansion

Work is now under way to extend both new concourses to handle 60% of passenger traffic at the airport when completed. At that point, the D and E concourses will have increased the size of the overall airport terminal by 400,000 sq metres to more than 1m sq metres.

Another 20 contact gates are expected to be added, bringing the total to 61, and the number of remote gates will rise to 14. The plan envisions a new drop-off area for premium passengers, a new 45,000-sq-metre passenger amenity area and the expansion of the main building where visitors enter and exit the airport. Though authorities have declined to comment on the anticipated cost of the expansion, regional business intelligence firm MEED estimated the value at $8bn in 2015.

HIA is also set to press ahead with a substantial expansion plan that will see a new concourse F added to the existing terminal, boosting capacity to 65m passengers annually. The government has reportedly approved the initiative, and designs for the works have already been completed. Al Baker confirmed in early 2017 that the aim is to complete the project as soon as possible.

According to local media, the steering committee responsible for the extension of the airport is expected to announce a public tender inviting internationally contracted parties to take part in late 2017 or early 2018.

Qatar may also add a second terminal to its new airport ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup if passenger growth outpaces projections, according to the CEO of the national carrier. “We have space at the airport for a second terminal to cope with additional demand,” Al Baker told local press at the time of the airport’s launch in 2014. “But we will only have a second terminal if we feel demand is moving ahead of the capacity of the airport.”

Driven by a significant growth in demand for passenger and airfreight services, the inauguration of new destinations for the flag carrier and the need to meet capacity projections for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, HIA is continuing to grow at a remarkably fast pace. Developments over the next three to five years, include the planned expansion of concourses D and E and the anticipated construction of concourse F. These moves will serve to cement HIA’s reputation as one of the fastest-growing and most efficient international hub airports in the world.


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The Report: Qatar 2017

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