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With more than 18,000 workers and 77 cranes on-site, work is underway for the new passenger terminal that will double the Abu Dhabi International Airport's (AUH) passenger capacity to more than 20 million per year. Set to open in the summer of 2017, the Midfield Terminal will open the capital to a much bigger international flight network. It is part of more than $100 billion (Dh367.32 billion) in investments in new homes, schools, roads and infrastructure projects between last year and 2017.
Currently one of the fastest-growing airports in the world in terms of passengers, AUH reported a 15.1 per cent increase in passenger traffic and a passenger count of 4.5 million during the first quarter of the year, compared to 3.9 million in the same period last year. This is expected to increase further by 30 per cent by the time the Midfield Terminal opens.
The airport is positioning itself as a central hub for passenger and cargo traffic in the Middle East.
"Ideally located between the East and West, Abu Dhabi is a strategic global hub for commerce and travel and it has a strong, resilient and ever-growing economy," says Tony Douglas, CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac), which operates the airport. 'Airlines and cargo operators in Abu Dhabi are able to capitalise on emerging business and tourism markets in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe."
AUH is spread over 60 sq km with its terminal spaces dominated by Etihad Airways. More than 50 airlines operate in the airport, shuttling around 12.5 million passengers per year to 85 destinations worldwide.
The airport was recently the recipient of the "Best Airport for the Middle East Region" award given by the Airports Council International.
The Midfield Terminal is part of a $6.8-billion airport expansion. Aside from more than doubling the airport's capacity, the new terminal will also provide options to further increase passenger capacity to 40 million.
"The Midfield Terminal will help cement the UAE's position as the world's true global nexus for travel," says Saj Ahmad, Chief Analyst at StrategicAero Research. "The UAE has become the international crossroad for the world. The Midfield Terminal will solidify it further still."
The expansion will see ten new gates mostly for Etihad Airways, the UAE's national carrier. There will also be remote aircraft stands with airfield ground lighting and hydrant fuel and a museum to highlight the emirate's cultural attractions such as The Louvre Abu Dhabi.
According to Adac, the airport is likely to handle 18 per cent more flights a day during the peak travel season. There will be six additional parking bays for wide-bodied aircraft,
An Etihad plane in Formula One livery. Global events hosted in the emirate will help bring in more foreign tourists increasing the airport's flight capacity by 10 per cent.
Adac also said 16 new X-ray machines have been installed to speed up the security process for transfer passengers. Improvements have been made to the baggage transfer system, raising its capacity by 40 per cent.
"Many of the key features are still under wraps, but what is clear from the impending rebranding at Eti-had is that the airport, like the airline, will leverage the strength of the new terminal to showcase the quality service that customers can expect," says Ahmad.
The airport expansion is also in line with the aggressive growth plan of Etihad. By 2020 the airline plans to operate more than 160 aircraft and nine fleet types, including ten Airbus A380s and 41 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
To increase its international footprint, Etihad has been signing code-sharing partnerships with other air carriers such as American Airlines, Air Berlin, Air France, Alitalia and KLM. New routes that have been opened include Medina, Jaipur, Rome, Yerevan, Los Angeles, Dallas, Zurich and Perth.
The airline has also increased frequency to certain destinations, mostly in the Indian subcontinent as Eti-had's partnership with Jet Airways takes flight.
Etihad recorded a 48 per cent jump in net profit to $62 million last year, on the back of a 27 per cent rise in revenue to $6.1 billion.
"Midfield Terminal will provide a unique, bespoke hub solely for the use of Eti-had and its partner airlines," says Ahmad. "Given the explosive organic and inorganic growth under Etihad's belt to date, the 30-million passenger capacity will help Etihad expand its network even faster because it will have a customised gateway at its disposal and provide customers with a seamless access point for travel to and through Abu Dhabi."
The airport has also been working closely with the Department of Transport to improve connectivity to the area. This includes widening the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway and constructing interchanges to the terminal and a car park. Trams are also being planned to connect passengers between terminals, while a southern runway tunnel will connect the Midfield Terminal to existing terminals.
AUH has also said that work is under way to build links to Etihad Rail, the 1,200km railway network connecting the different emirates.
It's not only the aviation industry that will benefit from the new facility.
"The airport expansion is one of Abu Dhabi's mega projects that will have a major strategic impact on the economy," says David Dudley, Regional Director and Head of Abu Dhabi Office at JLL. "Airports typically create a huge economic ripple effect and Abu Dhabi will be no exception to this."
Expanding the airport is fundamental to the government's tourism devel opment strategy, alongside growing the Etihad fleet, establishing international destinations such as the museums on Saadiyat island and hosting major global events and conferences.
Tourist arrivals in Abu Dhabi have increased gradually from less than 1 million in 2004 to approximately 2.8 million last year.
"Visitor arrivals have already been increasing year-on-year, and we expect a step change coinciding with the Midfield Terminal becoming operational as these various initiatives come together," says Dudley.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority has also announced a 30 per cent growth in hotel occupancy from January to May compared to the same period last year.
"We are excited about the opportunities these new developments present for the tourism industry," says Pascal Gauvin, Chief Operating Officer — India, Middle East and Africa of InterContinen-tal Hotel Group.
The local real estate market has seen a similar boost.
"Abu Dhabi's real estate market is very much dependent on the government investing revenue surpluses into major development and infrastructure projects to generate job growth," says Dudley. "The airport expansion is one of the key projects that have increased residential demand and led to rental growth and is one of the factors that have caused residential rents to rise in nearby Al Raha Beach." ^
Click on DWC airport to know more about aviation growth story in the UAE
Source: Aya Lowe, Special to Property Weekly