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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Exclusive: Saudi Arabia's Dammam Airport to double capacity as kingdom develops tourism projects

Country's third-largest hub to finalise expansion master-plan in July

The distinctive architecture of Dammam airport. The hub will undergo significant expansion. Giuseppe Masci / Alamy
The distinctive architecture of Dammam airport. The hub will undergo significant expansion. Giuseppe Masci / Alamy

Saudi Arabia’s third-largest airport plans to more than double capacity by 2025 to handle an expected surge in passenger traffic as the kingdom invests in tourism and entertainment projects to transform its oil-reliant economy.

King Fahd International Airport, the Kingdom’s eastern hub in Dammam, will expand its current terminal to 30 million passengers annually, up from 12.6 million currently, as part of a multi-phased masterplan that may include a new terminal, Turki Abdullah Al-Jawini, chief executive of Dammam Airports Company, told The National on Monday. Details of the masterplan will be finalised by July.

“We expect a great flow of tourist traffic being an eastern gateway into the kingdom and expect to get a good portion of that cake of new traffic,” Mr Al-Jawini said.

Saudi Arabia is embarking on a privatisation drive as part of sweeping and wide-ranging reforms to improve efficiency, diversify the economy and seek non-oil revenue streams. Under that plan, airports will be turned into private companies and privatisation will follow later. The Dammam airport has been corporatised and is under management of Dammam Airports Company. Mr Al Jawini declined to comment on plans to sell a stake in the airport.

As part of the masterplan, the Dammam hub will invest a total of 1.4 billion Saudi riyals (Dh1.37bn) in 2018 and 2019 on projects from runway repairs to expansion of its Cargo Village, with tenders to be awarded in the third quarter of this year, Mr Al Jawini said.

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This year’s investment of 700 million riyals includes two deals inked on Monday in Dubai. The airport signed an agreement with Serco Middle East for fire and rescue services and another with process automation company Vanderlande for baggage handling systems.

The 30-year masterplan of the airport’s future expansion in passenger and cargo operations, developed by Spanish consultancy Ineco, will cost “billions” of riyals, Mr Al Jawini said, declining to reveal the size of investment.

“The strategic location of Dammam Airport as an eastern gateway means it is perfectly situation to create a logistics hub,” he said.

This year the airport projects handling 10.2 million to 10.4 million passengers, up from 9.8 million in 2017, as it sees interest from new airline operators and an increase in religious travel.

In the first three months of 2018, passenger traffic grew 4.2 percent year on year.

The airport currently has 37 airline customers flying to 60 domestic and international destinations.