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New airport to help the pilgrims progress

Posted 27 June 2017 · Add Comment

Work is under way to establish a new international airport in Taif, Saudi Arabia, to help meet growing demand for haj and umrah flights. Alan Dron reports.

The existing airport at Taif, some 30km east of the city and 70km from Mecca, dates from 1976 and is a modest facility, with its single terminal capable of handling 550,000 passengers a year.
Officially classed as a regional airport, it nevertheless has several international services.
The new Taif airport is intended to be a gateway for pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia. It will help ease pressure on Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport and Medina’s Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz International Airport, especially during the haj and umrah seasons.
Pilgrim numbers are expected to climb towards an estimated 30 million annually by 2030.
Apart from its proximity to Mecca, Taif is a popular summer resort destination in the kingdom.
The new Taif airport will be located near Souk Okaz, some 120km from Mecca. When operational in 2020, it will have a capacity for 5 million passengers annually, with this figure increasing to 8 million as further expansion takes place
The new airport will begin operational life with a single 4,300metre runway (14,100ft) but, during the design process, planners will incorporate the ability to construct a second landing strip to cope with future passenger requirements.
A request for proposals for the new airport is due to be issued this year to determine the group that will win the contract to build, transfer and operate the airport. The Saudi Transport Ministry has already been given the details of the new airport’s location so it can start work on designing the surrounding road network to be linked to the national highway system.
The Saudi aviation regulator, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), has started to calculate the infrastructure demands for the new airport, including its water, electricity and communications requirements.
Meanwhile, GACA is also working on the early stages of a new airport at Qunfuda, on the Red Sea coast south of Jeddah. After studying 14 possible sites, one has been handed over to GACA to enable detailed planning to start.
The planned increase in airport capacity comes about as Saudi Arabia experiences steady growth in passenger traffic at its airports.
Liberalisation of the domestic aviation market has seen new carriers enter the scene and existing ones stepping up their attempts to tap into the largest market in the region. Saudi Arabia, with its 28 million population, constitutes by far the largest national market in the Gulf.
New carrier, SaudiGulf Airlines, has begun services between Dammam, Riyadh and Jeddah, while national carrier, Saudia, has embarked on a major fleet modernisation and expansion programme. While phasing out 18 older aircraft this year, it plans to take delivery of no fewer than 30, including seven Boeing 787-9s, five 777-300ERs, eight Airbus A320ceos and 10 A330-300s.
Additionally, Saudia is expected to launch its own low-cost carrier (LCC) subsidiary, Flyadeal, later this year.
At the 2015 Paris Air Show, Saudia placed an order for 20 high-density versions of the Airbus A330-300 Regional, which airline sources believe will form the new subsidiary’s fleet. They would prove useful on the densely travelled Riyadh-Jeddah sector.
Saudi hybrid carrier, Flynas, has also recently announced major expansion plans, as it phases out its current fleet of 26 Airbus A320ceos over the next five years and replaces them with an order for 80 A320neo-family aircraft. Twenty of the 80 were converted from a previous order for current A320ceo version.
And another new entrant to the local scene, Saudi-Egyptian carrier Nesma Airlines, has begun services with a combination of ATR 72-600 turboprops and A320-family jets. It operates from several Saudi cities to Cairo, but is also establishing a network of domestic Saudi routes based around a hub at Hail, in the north of the country.
Other carriers, including UAE-based LCCs Air Arabia and Flydubai, have also stepped up services to Saudi Arabia over the past year.
 

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