Airport Plans Take Off

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Rumours of an Ajman airport have circulated for some time, but on December 16, the government officially announced at a conference that construction of an international airport in the emirate would begin in 2008. The new airport will be the seventh in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), following those in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah.

The new airport facilities are scheduled to be completed by 2011, at a cost of Dh12bn ($3.3bn).

The airport will be built on an area of six million square metres in the city of Al Manama. Following Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approval, the project will be divided into phases. Phase one, which will last 18 months, will see construction on the main terminal building, runway, cargo bunker and aircraft maintenance workshop, and will also encompass an aviation school facility, free zone, a commercial area with 90 towers and residential areas. The construction and management details were entrusted to a consortium of four European firms on a BOT (build-operate-transfer) basis.

Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, the ruler of Ajman, said that the new airport in Ajman is expected to bring 28,000 jobs into Ajman, boosting the business and tourist sectors with low-cost-carrier (LCC) incentives and further contributing to the UAE's reputation as a cargo centre in the Middle East.

LCCs will make up 70% of the passenger flights in the first year. The Ajman airport, similar to those used on budget air routes in Europe, will be smaller than those of its neighbouring cities.

Authorities anticipate the airport will welcome more than one million passengers within the first three years, especially due to the increased travel being seen between the UAE and the Gulf countries. In the first year after construction, they hope to see eight regional airline services per week, followed by 15 the next year and 60 in the fourth year. The aircraft that it will accommodate will most likely be medium-sized, narrow-bodied planes such as the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.

At a distance of about 30 km from Dubai, Ajman airport may ease some of the passenger numbers in the neighbouring emirate. Dubai International airport handles about 30m passengers a year and is one of the world's busiest.

With the UAE responsible for 45% of the cargo activity in the Middle East, the need for a new airport is an indicator of the area's development as a regional cargo and transportation centre. Structured mostly for freight purposes, with 65% of flights cargo-based, Ajman airport is part of the emirate's aims to tap into this growing market. Thus far Ajman, apart from its ports, has not contributed much to the region's massive cargo industry, and overall the emirate offers only about 1% to 2% of the UAE's gross domestic product (GDP).

After the conference and unveiling of the plans, Sheikh Humaid said, "Studies show that the country needs more airports to cope with the rapid economic development and growing passenger and cargo traffic. The new airport project aims to meet the growing demand for aviation infrastructure."

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