Interview: Mohamed Yousif Al Binfalah
How would you assess the development of the initiatives currently taking place at the airport?
MOHAMED YOUSIF AL BINFALAH: The airport expansion project began in 2014 with the appointment of the design consultant and the project manager consultant. Since then we have made significant progress, beginning with clearing the site of all interfering underground services. The airport has quite a small platform, so day-to-day operations combined with the development of a terminal 1 km in length are challenging tasks.
Thus far, a site has been identified and cleared, and the contractor has completed 15% of the construction phase. This began in April 2016 and is expected to reach completion in 2019. The new terminal will start at the east end of the existing terminal and move towards the control tower. The expansion will quadruple the airport’s size and increase capacity to 14m passengers per year by 2020, up from 8m currently. This transformation will require a shift in mindset and additional training for existing staff as well as new hires.
There is a focus on capacity building and staffing. As such, we are implementing a number of initiatives, including the development of a programme with Tamkeen to recruit 20 university graduates – from Bahraini and international universities alike –in different fields, such as engineering and business to participate in two years of training, after which successful participants will be assigned to positions in various departments throughout the company.
In major projects, capacity building can often be a forgotten element. Furthermore, it is one that takes time, so it is important to properly develop and provide training from the very beginning. As end users that are involved in the design of the actual facility, we will have an advantage when it comes to future operations, and we will also be able to effectively deal with the challenges of managing the passenger experience as passenger numbers increase.
What are your expectations in terms of growth?
AL BINFALAH: The fundamentals of airport growth are mainly driven by economic growth, spurred by outbound and inbound travellers, or, alternatively, by increases generated by transit passengers. The latter is especially true for regional hubs, which enjoy a very high percentage of transfer passengers, in some cases up to 70%. So it is a balance between outbound and inbound, as well as transfer passengers. In our case, growth has been steady at 3% to 4% annually. This is healthy growth, but not the type we would like to have. We forecast an increase in growth due to the expected expansion of the Gulf Air fleet this year, which should attract additional customers to the market. The introduction of Boeing 787s to Gulf Air’s fleet will also allow it to compete in terms of technology. The expansion of the airport will also allow Bahrain to attract additional airlines and to explore the potential of underserved markets.
How are the effects of the global slowdown in cargo trade volumes being countered?
AL BINFALAH: The airport is an infrastructure gateway, no different than a seaport or the King Fahd Causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. It is just a platform, and you need operators to make use of that platform. The use of these platforms is driven by economic activity, and Bahrain is a relatively small market compared to others in the region. Nevertheless, our geographic position and our close proximity to the region’s largest market is a competitive advantage.
In 2015 a land use study of the airport identified areas that could be used for future cargo developments. One of those areas is now being developed and we are working with a logistics operator intending to build a 6000-sq-metre facility. We are also working with existing operators such as DHL that are looking to expand their regional footprint.
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