Interview: Mohamed Al Binfalah
What is the status of the new terminal that is being built at Bahrain International Airport?
MOHAMED AL BINFALAH: The Airport Modernisation Programme, one of the most ambitious projects in the kingdom’s civil aviation history, was 70% complete as of January 2019. We are working on a fuel farm, new terminal building, and joint venture between Bahrain Duty Free and Gulf Air, with the former expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2019. The terminal building is being completed in two phases. The first phase originally included only the central section of the three, but we have expanded our construction plans to include the eastern section in the first phase. The western section is part of the footprint of the existing terminal, so it will be completed after the new building is open and we can demolish this overlapping part of the old one.
How will the upgrade benefit passengers?
AL BINFALAH: First of all, our current terminal is currently operating past its capacity, with nearly 9m passengers per year. After the upgrade, we will have the capacity to provide 14m passengers with the highest level of service, meaning we will immediately have the room to grow the passenger count by more than 50%.
The new terminal will have better mobility. We are installing 20 travelators for both arriving and departing passengers. We will be able to use carts to help accommodate disabled passengers, a service that was previously impractical. Additionally, we have made sure to prioritise convenience, so passengers will only have to change one level on arriving or departing. On arriving, passengers will enter at the gates on the first floor and descend to the ground floor to leave. On departing, check-in, immigration, food and beverage facilities, and retail will all be located on the first floor, where a passenger will remain until it is time to go to their gate on the ground floor.
There are many improvements under way on the back end, too. With 210,000 sq metres of built-up space, the airport will be the biggest building in Bahrain to have a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification. Features include a lighting management system, a building management system and a process control system.
On the hardware level, energy efficiency measures include a ground service equipment strategy extending through the apron, with pop-ups for power and air conditioning for parked aircraft. This infrastructure limits the amount of moving equipment required, so in addition to energy savings we will benefit from the point of view of health and safety.
The technology behind running the airport includes 25 integrated subsystems that come from a consortium made up of Thales in France and SITA in the Netherlands. This complex management system will be extensible, so we plan to eventually launch an app for the airport, complete with a chatbot for passenger assistance. Passengers will also be able to track their own bags via a new system that is being promoted by the International Air Transport Association.
Beyond the passenger terminal, what changes will the modernisation programme effect?
AL BINFALAH: We are expanding the plan for a new cargo area as a result of the high levels of interest we have seen from express and logistics companies that want to serve the Saudi market from Bahrain. This includes new entrants and an expansion of the DHL regional hub that is already in place.
We also plan to include a medical clinic and, eventually, a new hotel. Currently, the medical clinic is run by the government, but we plan to adopt a model in use in many airports in Europe and rent out the space to a privately run clinic. A hotel is also an important facet of any modern airport for transit passengers. Passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled will find it useful, as it will prove a less stressful option than taking a bus to a property outside the airport.
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