Expanding air capacity: Development of facilities aims to accommodate increasing numbers of passengers and reduce congestion

With passenger numbers at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) rising rapidly and its main customer, Etihad Airways, in the midst of a major expansion drive, work is under way to significantly increase capacity at the airport through the construction of a new terminal. The project, known as the Midfield Terminal Building (MTB), is scheduled to hold an opening ceremony on National Day, December 2, 2017. The new terminal will have a capacity of 30m passengers per year, increasing the airport’s total capacity to 45m passengers per year.

Two-thirds of traffic through the new terminal is expected to consist of transfer passengers – which lines up with Etihad Airways’ plans to position itself as a network carrier. Ali Majed Al Mansoori, chairman of Abu Dhabi Airports, told OBG, “One of the key challenges we face is to continue delivering outstanding service to our passengers and airlines.

The development of the MTB remains fundamental to meeting that challenge, but in the meantime Abu Dhabi Airports has developed a plan that combines both operational improvements and a capacity enhancement programme (CEP). The multi-million-dollar CEP will enable us to accommodate the increasing numbers of passengers, by expanding and modernising our existing infrastructure.”

Construction Work

When completed, the MTB will have 65 aircraft gates and 14 remote stands, as well as 700,000 sq metres of internal space. This will make it one of the largest airport terminal buildings in the world under a single roof and one of the largest buildings in the emirate.

As reported by Abu Dhabi-based daily The National in August 2015, the MTB is being built by a consortium consisting of Abu Dhabi-headquartered construction firm Arabtec, Middle Eastern builder Consolidated Contractors Company and Turkish firm TAV, which specialises in constructing and operating airports. Al Mansoori told OBG, “The MTB will be one of the region’s most architecturally impressive structures and the primary gateway to Abu Dhabi, and strong airport infrastructure is crucial for sustaining the growth and development of airline operators. Due to its increased global connectivity and first-class airport offerings, complemented by Abu Dhabi’s growing popularity as a business and leisure destination in the Gulf region, AUH will continue to remain a target for airline operators when it comes to expanding their network to include new destinations, or increasing the frequency of flights to existing destinations.”

In an update on construction progress in August 2015, Abu Dhabi Airports told The National that work on the project had advanced greatly and that it had begun removing props supporting the terminal’s steel roof structure, a process that will take around six months. In December 2015 the company announced that the MTB project was 70% complete.

Adding Value

The new project also includes a component that will improve passenger’s overall experience. The National reported in late 2015 that Abu Dhabi Airports was preparing to announce the winning bids for concessions to operate in the MTB’s commercial space. The commercial offerings – divided into areas for luxury and high-street retailers, an Arabian souq, and food and beverage vendors – will cover 28,000 sq metres and include eight executive lounges. Al Mansoori told the daily, “The expansion should also help to encourage more passengers to stop for a time in Abu Dhabi, with the current percentage of traffic that transfers through Abu Dhabi International Airport reaching 65% in 2015.” Collaboration with both the Louvre and Guggenheim to establish museums on Saadiyat Island is also expected to help achieve this goal. Al Mansoori said, “When the Louvre opens in 2016, visitors from China, Japan, Singapore, etc, will elect in the future to stop by and see what is happening in Abu Dhabi.”

Interim Measure

The facility will be used primarily by Etihad Airways, as well as its equity and codeshare partners. In March 2015 Abu Dhabi Airports announced on its website that it had opened a number of new facilities at Terminal 1 as part of the CEP to facilitate increased passenger numbers while awaiting the MTB’s opening. These included 350 metres of new passenger walkways and nine new aircraft stands for wide-bodied aircraft.

The airport also sped up passenger flow by putting in place measures to allow transfer passengers to move directly to Terminal 3 without having to go through additional security screening. The upgrades also included measures to separate arriving and departing passengers in Terminal 1, where they previously moved through the same areas, in order to speed up passenger flow.

Following the completion of the initial CEP, the airport launched another capacity expansion programme, known as the Southside Terminals Enhancement Programme, which includes the expansion of the Terminal 3 check-in area, the introduction of in-line screening at Terminal 1, and a significantly increased departure gate and processing capacity at Terminal 2. “We believe these capital improvements, coupled with the many operational initiatives, position AUH to handle the continued growth of passengers in a safe, efficient and customer-friendly manner through to the opening of the MTB,” Al Mansoori told OBG.

New Runaway

In another important expansion project at the airport, Dubai-based business publication Gulf Business reported in December 2014 that AUH’s southern runway reopened following an Dh830m ($225.9m) expansion project to allow it to accommodate large aircraft, including Boeing 787s and Airbus A380s, both of which feature prominently in Etihad Airways’ fleet expansion programme. From 2016 onwards both runways will be used simultaneously, further boosting overall air traffic capacity. The project also saw the construction of 21 new wide-body aircraft stands. The airport can now accommodate all types of commercial aircraft and has an annual capacity of 500,000 aircraft movements a year.

Free Zone

Abu Dhabi Airports has also developed economic free zones aimed at foreign businesses. Known as Abu Dhabi Airport Business City, these facilities will include warehousing, office space and land to build on, aimed at supporting a variety of industries including aerospace, defence, IT and telecoms, airport services, logistics, pharmaceuticals and light manufacturing.

Firms operating in the free zones are eligible for benefits such as a 100% corporate and income tax exemption, 100% foreign ownership, no Customs duties and in-house IT services.


Al Mansoori told OBG that the MTB and other expansion projects would have an impact that extended far beyond the transport sector.

“The construction of the MTB and overall expansion of AUH are playing a vital role in facilitating the diversification of the emirate’s economy, fostering growth not just in the aviation sector, but also in other areas, such as retail, tourism, manufacturing, logistics, cargo handling and the development of maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities,” he said. The emirate’s efforts are also expected to have an impact on works aimed at developing the employees’ skills. Al Mansoori told OBG, “Our vision is to be the world’s leading airports group, and in doing so support the broader economic development of the emirate, along with nurturing young Emirati talent. We are in the unique position of having a leading aviation training facility as part of Abu Dhabi Airports, the Gulf Center for Aviation Studies. The training at the centre enables us to spot top talent who will move into some of the most important and critical roles in the company in the future.”