Ras Al Khaimah International Airport stands out as a crucial piece of infrastructure given the emirate’s focus on boosting tourism’s contribution to the economy. Tourism currently accounts for about 2% of GDP, according to the RAK Tourism Development Authority, and RAK’s officials believe they can increase that proportion to 9% within four to six years. While RAK has the fortune of being less than an hour away from Dubai International Airport, the emirate is aiming to maximise the benefits from its growing tourism sector, which will require an airport overhaul.

The emirate has put in place a new management team that recently completed its first full fiscal year. It has developed a proposed master plan for the airport that will allow for the additional capacity necessary and is working on incremental improvements in the meantime. Airport officials expect to finalise their master plan by mid-2013 with the help of an outside consultant, and from there a final investment decision can be made. Along with the airport, RAK Airways is in a growth phase and the emirate’s vision is for its airport and airline to grow together as drivers of and beneficiaries from tourism development.

Turning A Page 

RAK International Airport was opened in 1976, has a 3760-metre runway and is 18 km away from the city centre. CEO Andrew Gower arrived in October 2011 after serving 11 years on the management team at John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, UK. Gower recruited two other experienced airport executives from the UK: Mohammed Qazi, now the commercial and finance director, and Michael Coe, the development director.

Together, this management team has made a pledge to boost RAK International Airport to not only serve the emirate’s goals for the tourism industry, but also nurture the facility as a profit centre, leaving operating losses as something of the past. The long-term ideas include adding passenger processing capacity along with establishing revenue streams from retail, cargo and other services.

Main Markets

Tourists and expatriate labourers are the two main types of passengers using RAK International. Tourists are considered a better target for spending money while in the airport, whereas workers are a key part of RAK Airways’ strategy, as the carrier is positioning itself at a price point between low-cost carriers and full-service ones. In the future this will hopefully provide an increase in transit passengers, and retail options for them during layovers may end up distinct from those geared toward Western tourists. The immediate focus, however, is to rapidly increase tourist passengers.

As of early 2013 the airport’s capacity was considered to be about 800,000 passengers per year, a figure that could likely be stretched to 1m if need be, officials told OBG. Arrivals, departures and transit passengers totalled 406,651 in 2012, up 23.8% from 328,348 the year before. The number was 84,768 in 2010. The growth from 2010 to 2011 – an almost five-fold surge – reflects the return of RAK Airways to scheduled service after a period of suspension. In 2012 the airline accounted for approximately three quarters of passengers using the airport’s scheduled services.

Making Headway 

While the airport’s management awaits decisions on a long-term plan, current improvements have begun with efforts to increase efficiency in the space currently available. Departures and arrivals are now in different buildings, with the departures hall the larger of the two. In addition to essential functions, it housed support services, such as the airport police station and Customs and immigration back office services. Wherever possible those functions have been relocated to buildings on the airport site but outside the departures terminal, and that has created extra space to be deployed for a departure hall’s core function of processing passengers through check-in, security and immigration, as well as providing increased retail space. Once past immigration, passengers find themselves directly inside the duty-free shop, and have increased options for food and beverages as well. As of early 2013, baggage security was located at the entrance of the building, just after passengers entered, but in spring 2013 a new baggage system was installed behind the scenes, ridding passengers of the need to process their luggage through an x-ray system themselves before checking in for their flights.

Service Oriented

The aim is to market RAK International Airport according to its advantages, as well as seek options that complement, rather than compete with, those at Dubai International Airport, such as charter flights and low-cost carriers. RAK International Airport’s difference includes its size; the airport’s smaller size means lower costs, and those savings can be passed on to the airlines that use it, thus creating opportunities for low-cost carriers. The airport is manageable enough that on arrival passengers can clear immigration, retrieve their baggage and hop in a taxi in very little time.

Parking is free outside the terminal, and airport officials were also considering developing a premium service called Al Awlawiyyah, in which limousine service to the airport is followed by fast-track processing through check-in and immigration, then access to a business lounge. Streamlining outbound baggage security procedures and adding amenities and retail concourses are not only aimed at generating revenues but also at creating repeat passengers. “The tourism sector is strongly connected to the airport, as the experience for tourists starts the moment they land at the airport,” Gower told OBG.

“Having an efficient and effective airport will improve their overall experience, and consequently help bring more tourists to RAK.”

Behind the scenes the airport’s reorganisation has included the addition of a second fuel farm, an indication of the expected increases in traffic and demand. A contract was signed in March with SKA Group, a Dubai-based supplier of fuel and logistics services, that is focused on operations in the Middle East and Africa. The contract signed with RAK International is for a 10-year period and authorises SKA Group to build, operate and manage this second facility to add to the one already in existence.

Master Plan

As of April 2013 the master plan developed by the airport’s management team was at the concept phase, and a consultant was expected to be brought in mid-year to evaluate it and help develop the plan. One of the first steps would be to convert the current arrivals and departure halls, along with the cylindrical building located between them, into a single structure that would then serve as a new and revamped terminal. A modern and curved roofline could also be added to the outer shell of the new building. Additionally, the master plan includes office space, more cargo and runway capacity, an on-site hotel, as well as another terminal.