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NEWS Last modified on June 9, 2017

Upgrades, new airports and private investors on the agenda in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has big plans for the development of its airport system, according to King Fahd International Airport's general manager, Turki Abdullah Aljawini.

Speaking at the Aviation Talks Summit ahead of the recent ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Assembly, Conference, Exhibition in Doha, Aljawini was quick to point out that his airport is one of many in Saudi Arabia to be either in the middle of an upgrade or due one under ambitious development plans for the country’s airport system.

He explained that the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) had essentially run the nation’s airports since its creation in 1935 and that today the system comprises 27 airports that between them handled 709,000 flights and 85.3 million passengers in 2016.

These airports include the international gateways of Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Ta’if and Medinah, however, with passenger numbers growing by 10% per annum, more capacity is needed to ensure that the Kingdom is equipped to meet future demand.

The government’s response, revealed Aljawini, has been to plan the development of four new airports (Al-Qunfudah, Farasan Island, Riyadh North and Riyadh South) and draft a new five-year business plan for aviation.
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In line with this, he stated, GACA has started the “corporatisation” programme of the Kingdom’s airports and other business units in readiness for their possible future privatisation.

GACA also plans transforming some regional airports into regional hubs to feed traffic to the smaller domestic airports in a bid to improve connectivity across Saudi Arabia. Ha’il and Abha are the country’s first newly established regional hub status served by Nesma Airlines and flynas respectively.

“The objective of the Regional Hub Project is to increase the number of flights at the smaller domestic airports to solve the seating capacity problem faced by some airports and reduce congestion at some of the international airports,” he said.

In terms of new infrastructure at existing airports, he told delegates that Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport has a newly opened domestic terminal – the 12mppa capacity Terminal 5 – and plans to upgrade existing terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4 by 2019 to increase their total capacity to handle 24 million international passengers yearly.

Elsewhere, Jeddah–King Abdulaziz International Airport expects to open the first 30mppa phase of its new terminal in 2018, while new terminals are also being built in Abha and Arar by the end of 2018 and Jizan by 2020.
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He noted that Saudi Arabia’s first 100% privately built and operated gateway, Medinah’s Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport opened in 2015, has been such an outstanding success that GACA is now open to the idea of expanding its partnership with the private sector at other airports across the Kingdom.

Proof of this is the recent award of a 30-year concession to TAV Airports to build and operate a new airport in Yanbu; the building of a new cargo hub in Rabigh; and projects for new terminals in Al-Hasa, Ha’il, Taif and Qassim.

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