A long-delayed terminal building at Abu Dhabi International Airport is to go ahead as the emirate competes with other hubs in the region for a bigger share of the global air travel market.
Work on the immense Midfield Terminal Building, part of a Dh25 billion (US$6.08bn) to Dh27bn redevelopment and expansion plan for the airport, is expected to start in the second quarter of next year, Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac) said yesterday.
The 700,000 square metre terminal building, one of the capital's most significant projects, will open in 2017. It will become home to Etihad Airways and the main gateway to the capital. Initially, it will have capacity for 27 million to 30 million passengers a year.
"We live in a very competitive environment," said Haytham Haidar, the chief development officer at Adac. "We need to compete with some wonderful facilities around the emirate, whether it be in Bahrain, in Muscat, Doha or even in Sharjah here in the UAE. The ability to develop this infrastructure in a timely basis is a key for us to stay competitive within our region."
Six bids have been received for the construction of the Midfield terminal, Adac said. These include a joint venture between the UAE's Al Habtoor, South Africa's Murray & Roberts and Germany's Hochtief.
Abu Dhabi's Al Jaber Group, Bechtel of the US, and Turkey's Enka have teamed up for a bid.
There is also a consortium with South Korea's Hyundai Engineering & Construction, South Korea's Kumho Industrial, China State Construction Engineering and Al Shafar. South Korea's Samsung is also bidding as part of another joint venture. The contract will be awarded in the first quarter of next year, Mr Haidar said.
A tender for the building was issued in 2008 but later withdrawn as a review was conducted. That tender was structured on a public-private partnership model, but the new tender was issued as a traditional construction contract following a due-diligence study.
The demand for the new facilities has been underpinned by the rapid expansion of Etihad Airways and the growth of Abu Dhabi as a travel hub. Passenger numbers have continued to grow strongly despite volatility in the aviation sector globally.
"That is what creates the demand and the need for equipment, for infrastructure and also for people as well," Mr Haidar said.
The terminal building has been designed in the shape of an "X" and will include a luxury hotel and spa. The central space of the building could hold three full-sized football pitches and its ceiling reaches 52 metres at its highest point, forming one of the largest spanning arches in the world.
Dubai in July announced a $7.8bn expansion plan for Dubai International Airport, which would increase its annual capacity from 60 million passengers to 90 million by 2018.
"Abu Dhabi has quietly been investing in expanding its infrastructure, not only to support the growth being harnessed by Etihad Airways, but also by the large number of travellers coming to and through this key UAE hub," said Saj Ahmad, an analyst at FBE Aerospace in London.
"With many airports in and around the GCC all chasing after lucrative transfer traffic, Abu Dhabi hopes to cement its political advantage as being the capital of the UAE and expand its footprint in order to allow customers better access and facilities as competition in the region continues to resonate in the wake of more passengers wanting to avoid other congested hubs."