Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group

Getting back on Track: Stalled airport projects restarting across Middle East

Even in the early months of the global pandemic, airport operators and investors could see that serious trouble lay ahead. By July 2020, the writing was on the wall for all manner of airport renovation, upgrade and expansion works worldwide. With demand massively supressed and passenger terminals near empty, it made little to no sense in many cases to move forward with massively expensive development projects. 

Fast-forward to today, and the rollout of various national vaccination programmes is beginning to make a serious dent in COVID-19 infection and hospitalisation rates. Air travel demand is slowly returning in key markets and more optimistic predictions about the industry’s future are creeping back into our newsfeeds. However, the ongoing economic, safety and logistical issues still being caused by the pandemic have left plenty of expansion plans facing significant delays, or even permanent shelving. From Heathrow’s planned expansion being knocked back at least 5 years, to the indefinite suspension of the $3 billion Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport expansion, many major air travel hubs will have to wait years before the prospects of similar projects can be discussed.

However, early 2021 has seen a resurgence of airport expansion projects coming back online in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz Airport may have just closed its South Terminal after 40 years of operations, but it is now back on track for the third and final phase of its $2 billion expansion project to make it capable of handling 43 million passengers per year. Work is also moving ahead on the landmark Red Sea International Airport, with the first phase of the project, including the new international airport, due to be completed by the end of next year.

In the UAE, the vast $36 billion expansion of Al Maktoum International Airport was largely put on hold in 2020, but elements of the first phase of the masterplan to create infrastructure capable of servicing 230 million passengers per year are resuming, including works on the new terminal and concourse. Similarly, the latest stage of the phased plan to expand Sharjah International Airport (SHJ) began in late 2020 and are picking up speed in the early months of 2021, as the $408 million investment includes a major extension of the main terminal, as well as renovations for facilities including the airport control tower.

In Oman, Muscat International Airport formally opened its new 56 million passenger-per-year terminal at the end of 2020, while plans to build the new Musandam Airport with its 250,000 annual capacity are also back on. Bahrain International Airport will also experience a major facelift this year, as the $1.1 billion expansion package under the Airport Modernisation Programme will result in a new 210,000 square metre terminal, boosting its annual capacity from 9 to 14 million. As well as size, we can expect to see technological power added to the airport, in the form of advanced automation systems utilised in its baggage handling and storage operations.

These projects, alongside resumed works on airports in Qatar, Kuwait and elsewhere, demonstrate how the aviation industry is finally in a position to look beyond the confines of the pandemic and get planning for the future.