x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Etihad growth prompts airport upgrade

Abu Dhabi Airports Company will spend Dh500 million to raise the passenger handling capacity at Abu Dhabi International Airport by 75 per cent over the next two years.

Officials have drawn up interim measures to boost the handling capacity of the airport as Etihad outgrows its current home.
Officials have drawn up interim measures to boost the handling capacity of the airport as Etihad outgrows its current home.

Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) will spend Dh500 million (US$136.1m) to raise the passenger handling capability at Abu Dhabi International Airport by 75 per cent over the next two years.

Airport officials have drawn up interim measures to boost the handling capacity of the airport as Etihad Airways outgrows its current home at Terminal 3 after just two years in operation.

"Etihad's growth has put enormous pressure on Abu Dhabi International Airport," Chris Youlten, the vice president of airport and network operations at Etihad, said during the MEED Abu Dhabi Conference this week.

A capacity enhancement programme will be implemented to increase the throughput potential of the airport from 12 million a year to 20 million passengers, said Haytham Haidar, the chief development officer of ADAC.

The improvements will serve as a stopgap measure for the airport's facilities until the opening of the planned $6.8bn Midfield Terminal, which will become the permanent home of Etihad, the capital's flag carrier that generates 70 per cent of all airline traffic at the airport.

The planned opening date of the Midfield Terminal is between 2015 and 2016, Mr Haidar said.

The Midfield Terminal project was unveiled in 2004 with the vision of becoming a world-class aviation gateway.

The X-shaped terminal will feature 50-metre high ceilings, one of the longest arches in the world and initial capacity for 27 million passengers a year.

When it was first announced the expected opening date was next year, Mr Youlten said. In the meantime, to serve the growing needs of Etihad, ADAC built Terminal 3 at a cost of Dh1.1bn.

Etihad transferred flights to the terminal early last year. The facility expanded the capacity of the airport by 40 per cent. The original date for the Midfield Terminal was a factor that led Etihad in 2008 to make one of the world's largest aircraft orders of up to 205 aircraft, said Mr Youlten.

"Since then, the completion of the airport has been pushed out several times, most recently to 2015," he told delegates at the conference.

The shifting timetable has left Etihad in danger of not having the space to accommodate the new aircraft, deliveries of which are spread over the coming decade beginning next year, Mr Youlten said.

Of particular importance was the arrival of Airbus A380 superjumbos, which require dedicated infrastructure, he said.

A dozen contracts have been awarded for the short-term upgrade, Mr Haidar said. The revamp includes expanding terminal facilities, boosting perimeter security, adding parking spaces and catering facilities and enhancing baggage transfer systems. ADAC is also trying to increase the number of gates that are able to handle the superjumbos.

Etihad passengers will increasingly be transported by bus to boarding points on the tarmac rather than embark from within Terminal 3 as the carrier's indoor gates reach capacity.

That means it will take longer to board planes and passengers will be more exposed to high daytime temperatures. "We have no choice," Mr Youlten said. "There is no space left."

Etihad, which has won industry awards for its level of service, will not compromise on quality, Mr Youlten said. But he acknowledged there would be changes.

However, he pointed to Qatar Airways, which has maintained its five-star airline ranking despite busing its passengers out on to the tarmac to board planes for all of its 260 daily flights.

"Before the Midfield opens, we will manage, but the ribbon-cutting ceremony can't come early enough," Mr Youlten said.

 

igale@thenational.ae