While in the middle of the 20th century the Kuwaiti aviation sector led the Gulf region in terms of progress and innovation, over the past 20 year or so the country has lost its lead as other GCC states have caught up. In the 1980s, Kuwait Airways was a favourite with an excellent reputation, but today it has largely been eclipsed by the rise of carriers based in the southern Gulf, which successfully compete for lucrative long-haul routes between Europe and the Asia Pacific. However, there is one advantage that Kuwait could utilise to move to the head of the pack, the Sheikh Saad General Aviation Terminal (SSGAT) at Kuwait International Airport (KIA).
SSGAT started out as a purpose-built hub for Wataniya Airways, a Kuwaiti airline based on the principle of luxury aviation. Wataniya was founded in 2006 and was a public company traded on the Kuwaiti Stock Exchange. The onset of the global economic crisis took its toll, and the company ceased operations due to financial difficulties in March 2011. However, a major part of Wataniya’s appeal was that it had its own dedicated terminal, offering passengers the prospect of a small terminal with no queues and a very smooth and rapid transit experience.
SSGAT continues to function and meets two niche segments in the Kuwaiti aviation market, low-cost carriers (LCC) and the top-end, private aviation segment. It has increasingly attracted more airlines as work on the expansion of KIA is under way. Divided into three zones, SSGAT caters to economy, business and VIP passengers, as well as acting as a base for private aviation. It remains under the authority of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, but is managed by the Royal Aviation Company.
SSGAT covers an area of 130,000 sq metres and features a three-storey main terminal building with an area of 4000 sq metres, a 5000-sq-metre hangar and a 90,000-sq-metre apron. The main terminal houses a reception area, VIP and VVIP lounges, conference rooms, private offices, food and beverage facilities, and a prayer room. It also has its own immigration and Customs clearance stations, baggage screening and metal detectors, enabling it to offer a much speedier and smoother experience to passengers. It was built at a cost of KD16m ($56.2m) and handles private aircraft, helicopters, and air ambulances. The terminal is capable of handling up to 40 flights a day, and can accommodate 33 aircraft in shaded and non-shaded parking and hangars.
Serving New Carries
Since mid-2013, SSGAT has been the Kuwait hub of flydubai, an LCC based in the emirate of the same name. It operates eight flights a day between Kuwait and Dubai. The airline opened the route in 2010, and since then passenger numbers have risen to over 1m a year, prompting the move to SSGAT. The carrier said that by using SSGAT’s facilities, it is able to process passengers through the terminal at an average of 25 minutes for economy ticket holders and 10 minutes for business class ticket holders. Kuwait’s own LCC, Jazeera Airways, is currently based at KIA, from where it operates flights to 20 destinations. Over the past decade LCCs have seen a 52% increase in scheduled capacity, compared to just 7% for full service carriers, according to a 2014 report from investment bank Alpen Capital.
SSGAT is also a base for Kuwait’s burgeoning private aviation business. Of the companies providing private aviation services, Royal Wings Aviation Services operates as a broker of private aircraft, offering fixed-base operator services, as well as executive, VIP, cargo and medical evacuation charter flights. United Aviation, a subsidiary of Gulf Aviation Services, operates a fleet of three Embraer 135s.
It is conceivable that other airlines may chose to base themselves at SSGAT, given the time-saving advantages the facility is able to offer travellers. As services at KIA are set to expand and the government works to take over a larger share of the market, SSGAT looks set to move from strength to strength as the facility is able to offer more attractive travel options.
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