Abu Dhabi International Airport is set to handle a record number of flights in the summer as Etihad Airways’ rapid expansion brings new air traffic to the capital.
But the inflow of passengers is putting pressure on an airport that just a few years ago handled half as many people.
More than 1,500 weekly flights are planned during the three months to September – an increase of 22 per cent over a year earlier. Passenger growth last year also topped 20 per cent.
“We’ve made a lot of changes to the airport and have planned for double-digit expansions in capacity through to the opening of the Midfield Terminal,” said Ahmad Al Haddabi, the chief operating officer at Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac).
“We’re expecting 24 million passengers in the year, and we will be able to accommodate that number.”
The airport handled 12 million passengers in 2011, but is expected to cater to twice that number over the course of this year.
This has been driven by Etihad’s rapid growth in passenger numbers as it opens new routes between Abu Dhabi and the rest of the world and buys minority stakes in a host of regional airlines to expand its network.
Etihad added new routes from Abu Dhabi to Spain, Uganda, Scotland, Hong Kong and Algeria in the second quarter of this year.
The Midfield Terminal, a US$3.2 billion extension to Abu Dhabi’s airport set to open in July 2017, will increase the airport’s total capacity to 40 million passengers a year.
But with passenger numbers set to exceed 27 million by the end of next year, capacity pressures on the airport’s existing terminals are mounting.
Ali Majed Al Mansoori, the chairman of Adac, previously said that demand on infrastructure at the airport would be at “a critical level” by the end of next year.
Major refurbishment work has been carried out at the main Abu Dhabi Airport terminals in a bid to keep capacity growing until the Midfield Terminal is able to handle traffic. These refurbishments involved expanding capacity at its terminals and refurbishing one of its two runways.
An expansion to Terminal One was completed in January this year. It added 350 metres of new walkways, nine new aircraft stands for wide-bodied aircraft and new walkways linking Terminal One and Terminal Three.
The South Runway, originally opened in 1982, was closed in February last year for 10 months of repairs and refurbishment, and was reopened in December. The runway was widened to make it compatible with wide-body superjumbo jets such as the Airbus A380, which has a wingspan of 80 metres. Etihad operates two A380 aircraft and has ordered another eight
Abu Dhabi Airports’ last major expansions were the opening of the North Runway and Terminal Three, which services Etihad and its partner airlines, both in 2009.
Tony Douglas, the former chief executive of Adac, quit in March to take up a senior position in the United Kingdom’s defence ministry.
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