Passenger traffic through Bahrain International Airport is expected to reach six million by the end of the year, compared to last year’s 5.1 million.
Statistics available up to August this year show an increase of 7 per cent in passenger numbers compared to the same period last year. About 3.681 million passengers passed through the airport during the first eight months of this year, compared to 3.441 million. Cargo and mail traffic also soared 15 per cent compared to the same period last year.
“Passenger traffic for the first six months of this year has overshot IATA’s expectations in relation to airport growth ratios in the Middle East,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Transportation Minister Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa. Aircraft movement registered a 2 per cent growth to 48,587 in the eight months of this year compared to 47,601 during the same period last year.
Although the average growth forecasted by International Civil Aviation Organisation (UN agency) throughout the world was 6.5 per cent in 2004, Bahrain International Airport was successful in setting records in all areas of its activity with 20 per cent increase in passengers and 27 per cent in cargo business.
To cope with soaring passenger figures, Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa has approved a massive expansion of the airport in three stages to cope. The project was given the go-ahead to preserve its competitive role as one of the region’s leading airports.
The project includes development of utility services which could provide services to 15 million passengers. They include several new air-bridges linking planes with passenger lounges. The Premier was briefed on a study on the expansion project prepared by the Transportation Ministry and presented by Deputy Premier and Transportation Minister Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.
A BD70 million ($185.7 million) expansion project was unveiled in February this year when it was said that work on the first BD50 million phase would start early next year.
The Premier said the expansion was crucial to attract more airline companies and flights in order to boost the Kingdom’s commerce and tourism. The airport was an important showcase for the Kingdom, he added. The expansion project currently planned will make Bahrain airport one of the most modern and busiest in the region, pointed out Sheikh Ali. Work on the first phase will be completed in 2008, he said.
The project, which entails extending the terminal to the east, will include eight new air-bridges, ten aircraft stands, travelators and expansion of the baggage reclaim area. The number of check-in desks will be doubled from 40 to 80, while the immigration counters will be increased from eight to 14.
“The expansion is aimed at meeting the demand of the ever-increasing number of passengers as well as more foreign airlines operating to our airport,” said Sheikh Ali. “In line with our open-sky policy, 5.2 million passengers used the airport last year – one million more than the previous year.”
After work on the first phase is completed, work on the second phase of the terminal expansion programme will be started. This phase will involve the extension of the airport terminal on the west side, enabling the airport to handle an additional four to five small type (Code C) of aircraft.
“Several international consultants have presented their studies, which are currently under evaluation, on the future expansion of the airport,” he said. “Our focus should be to provide the best possible service to all passengers and airlines using our airport.”
In a separate development project to be implemented by the private sector, a new car-park complex – which can take up to 4,000 cars – is also to be built at a cost of BD343 million. To be constructed at the existing public car-park, the five-storey complex covering 40,000 sq m will include an executive business centre, retail and entertainment areas and will be linked to the main passenger terminal.
Another project is the resurfacing of the existing runway, which will allow the landing of super jumbo A380s. The current airport runway, built in 1986, is 3,961 m long and 60 m wide. Work on the 4km-long runway, due to start later this year, is expected to be completed within a year.
A budget of BD10.6 million ($28.12 million) has been allocated for the project which covers 400 hectares, said Works and Housing Ministry assistant under-secretary for construction and maintenance projects Mohammed Hussain Al Mubarak. Two 710-metre concrete runway terminals will also be built. British firm Gibb Limited has been selected as project technical consultant and supervisor, in co-operation with MSCEB Salahuddine Consultants. Several alleys for tugging planes will also be constructed along with a new sub-electrical station.
Electricity, water and telecommunications networks will be installed and external roads and pavements will also undergo a major facelift. “The work will be undertaken in close co-ordination with Civil Aviation Affairs (CAA) and airlines operating through our airport. The airport will operate as normal during the resurfacing work. Most of the work will be carried out during late night and early morning hours, between 2am and 6am, when traffic is very low.” A new lighting system would also be installed to upgrade the airport to Category II level, allowing aircraft to land at a visibility of 300 metres.
A boundary fencing will be built at a cost of BD2.7 million. Plans are also under way to build a cargo oasis at the airport complex at an estimated cost of BD5 million.
The recently-inaugurated new runway is 2,600 m long and 45 metre wide and has been built according to the specifications laid down by International Civil Aviation Organisation. A BD8.9 million contract for the construction of the new runway was completed in 15 months by Haji Hassan Group and was undertaken by the Works and Housing Ministry, with Gibb Limited Bahrain branch as the engineer.
In addition, Bahrain International Airport now has five new world-class lounges – one for the First Class and Business Class passengers and the other four for VIPs and official guests. The new BD1 million ($2.65 million) Dilmun Lounge for First Class and Business Class passengers was recently opened at the airport by Sheikh Ali.
The new lounge, which replaced the Dilmun Lounge on the departure area, is located on the top floor of the airport building. It complements the four lounges at the arrival area opened recently.
The project was implemented by Bahrain Airport Services (BAS) as part of a plan to provide world-class services to premium passengers of various airlines using the airport. The new lounge has more than double the capacity of the present Dilmun Lounge, said BAS chairman Jamil Wafa. “This has been possible due to the vision of Sheikh Ali and his endless support to the BAS board and management,” said Wafa. “The 600 sq m lounge has 120 seats, two shower rooms and a special area for disabled people.”
The project has been designed by French-Lebanese architects George Karam Designs, in association with Tony Hutton Associates of Britain. Work was carried out by local contractors Kontra. “It was built to European specifications with best quality tiles and tastefully decorated with special wall paintings and furniture,” added Wafa.
The new lounge will cater to First Class and Business Class passengers of all airlines, except those of Gulf Air and Cathay Pacific, which have their own airport lounges. Wafa said a special team has been recruited to manage the tastefully-decorated lounge, which is located in an area which was earlier occupied by Bahrain Duty Free.
Wafa, who made several visits to London to select materials for the lounge, said it has been built to European specifications with best quality tiles. “It has been decorated with special wall paintings, Dilmun seals and super class furniture,” he added. The airport restaurant is also undergoing a major facelift, he said.
Earlier, opening the four VIP lounges, Sheikh Ali said the lounges have been designed in line with the latest types of services and facilities offered at top international airports. “The furniture and other equipment are of high international standard. The idea is to offer the best of Arab hospitality to our visitors. It will make travelling procedures for VIPs and other guests very smooth,” he said.
The lounges are of different sizes, and each one can take between ten to 20 guests. Sheikh Ali also said the lounges had been built as part of a comprehensive plan drawn up by the CAA to upgrade services at the airport. “The airport expansion plan will reflect the progress and development achieved by the Kingdom over the years,” he said. “It is also aimed to meet the challenges facing the international airline industry.”
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