When Qatar's prime minister laid the foundation stone for the New Doha International Airport (NDIA) last week, his presence - and that of a host of other top ministers - underscored the importance of both the event and the project. Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani was joined on the podium by the foreign minister, the minister of energy and industry, the minister of finance, and the minister of economy and commerce.
Plans for the NDIA were outlined by engineering firm Bechtel in a presentation at the groundbreaking ceremony. The US group won the contract for planning and developing the first phase of the facility back in January 2004.
So far, the work has consisted of a massive land reclamation project, since over half the area of the new airport will be constructed on land reclaimed from the sea. The land reclamation is expected to require over 50m cu metres of infill material to complete. With the retaining walls already built, work is around two months ahead of schedule, according to some sources, and the massive infilling is proceeding as planned.
Scheduled to open in 2009 at a cost of $2.5bn, phase one will be built around two parallel runways of 4250 metres and 4850 metres respectively. These will be designed specifically to accommodate the extended take off and landing space needed for the Airbus A380-800 Super-Jumbo.
Within the three-storey terminal building there will be 24 contact gates and around 140,000 sq metres of floor space of which 25,000 sq metres will be dedicated as retail space to serve the 12m passengers that the facility will be able to handle. The building will also comprise a further seven more remote gates, hanger space for two of the Super-Jumbos (which Qatar Airways will take launch delivery of in 2009) and a maintenance centre. As well as requiring some infrastructural upgrades - such as three new major road interchanges to provide access to the site, which is 4 km away from central Doha - a luxury hotel and a transit hotel will provide accommodation, while a business park will provide offices and a free trade zone will allow tax-free trade.
Phase two will include a further 16 contact gates and will extend the terminal building to 219,000 sq metres. A suspended monorail will provide transport throughout the facilities. More hotels will also be provided to accommodate the expanded passenger capacity of 25m.
Phase three will include another 40 contact gates bring the total to 80 and requiring the terminal building to be extended to 416,000 sq metres, meaning the facility will be able to handle over 50m passengers per year by the projected finishing date of 2015.
The price tag on the world's most up-to-date and technologically advanced airport is expected to total $5.5bn. This will be the first airport purposely designed for accommodating the A380-800, of which it will be able to service six simultaneously.
"This new airport will play a very important role in the development of the aviation sector in Qatar," said Abdul Aziz Mohamed al-Noami, Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Qatar and Chairman of the NDIA Steering Committee at the ground breaking. "[It] will be an ideal base for Qatar Airways and other international airlines."
However, the completion date for phase one has raised some questions - particularly about the impending Doha Asian Games, set for 2006. The world's second largest sporting event after the Olympics obviously requires adequate infrastructure and the intention to address this need with a new airport was made in Doha's original bid for the games.
Initial plans were for a $700m upgrade of the existing facilities but upon a more careful consideration the planners opted to invest in a more long-term strategy. The Olympic Committee of Asia (OCA) was satisfied that an ongoing $140m refurbishment of the existing Doha International Airport would suffice when coupled with the erection of a temporary terminal during the games.
"The cost [of the temporary terminal] will be around $2m," explained Abdulla Qahtani, director general of Doha Asian Games Organising Committee when talking to OBG recently, "It will have luggage belts, air conditioning, information screens, waiting areas, VIP areas and everything a normal airport has."
The decision to put the main effort into finding a longer term, and much grander, solution to the airport question reflects a planning strategy that affects all the infrastructural developments surrounding the games.
"The questions we asked were, is this just an airport for the games and what are the plans are for the future - a centre for commercial business or tourism or what?" Qahtani continued. "When it came to the Asian games, we had to look at what was needed for the country - not just the games. We are integrating the planning. The Asian games should not affect the development of the country. They should help it by putting things in place that are useful for more than just the period of the games - for example, the re-vamped traffic network."
The airport is not the only development that Qatar hopes to benefit from thanks to the impetus from the Asian games. As the tournament approaches, more and more of these spin offs will become apparent - but plane-spotters will have to wait for the world's largest airport just a little longer.