MIAMI — The Middle East has had an expanding influence in the global aviation ecosystem for many years now, as the three major Gulf region carriers expand at a dizzying pace. While the airlines may be growing at astronomical rates, their airports have lagged behind dealing with the needed capacity. While Dubai’s World Central Airport marked its first commercial flight this week, it is still many years away from fully operating. Meanwhile, in Qatar, Doha’s new Hamad International Airport is nearly ready to open, greatly enhancing Qatar Airways’ ability to rapidly expand.
Currently, Qatar operates out of what they describe as a “temporary” solution at the existing Doha International Airport, the only commercial airport in Qatar. Doha International has only four small “terminals”, and sports a grand total of zero jet bridges. All arrivals and departures are done at hard stands and require busing.
Just a few miles to the east, a brand new, state-of-the-art mega airport is nearly ready to transform commercial aviation in Qatar to an experience that more adequately lines up with the high level of service passengers expect on board. At the equivalent of 85 football fields, Hamad International Airport is a behemoth of an airport, and is aiming to revolutionize the passenger experience in the small country.
The new facility sits on an impressive 9,000 acres of land and is surrounded by a sea of parking. Departing passengers enter a space that can only be described as breathtaking; the size and design of the ticketing concourse takes a few moments to fully set in. Throughout the terminal, beautiful art and water features decorate the space. Check-in counters decorated with back lit stone greet passengers, with 108 check-in desks for economy, 16 more for business class, and 14 first class check-in “booths,” lines should stay under control. Past the 14 passport control stations, a massive way finding feature directs passengers to the proper concourse.
We were given a brief tour of the B concourse, as well as a full rundown of airport operations from senior airport officials. From what we were able to see, the airport looks, for the most part, ready to go. An airside and operates manager confirmed that the massive airport, from an airside standpoint, could be operational within 24 hours if given the word. Everywhere I looked, the concourse looked ready to accept passengers. Gates loaded with chairs (none of which were equipped with power outlets, much to my dismay), TVs displaying the news, and flight display information screens were even active.
The airport is heavily focused on passenger comfort and amenities, and takes into consideration what part of a trip each passenger is at. “What we do as a passenger experience and a service proposition is we’ve decided to segment our passengers,” said Sujata Kumar Suri, VP- Strategy & Customer Experience at Doha International Airport. “We’ve segmented them into arriving, departing, and transferring passengers, and the service concepts that we’ve tried to fit into this building are relevant to those who come into here to depart out of here, arrive to go into Doha, or who are transferring. Within transfers, we segment passengers that are transferring in less than two hours, and those which are transferring in more than two hours.” This type of segmenting assures that each passengers, no matter how long they are there for, are cared for in style.
The airport boasts big claims when it comes to connecting passengers, which account for a large percentage of passengers traveling on the Gulf carriers. There are 60 security lanes dedicated to transiting passengers, and the airport is aiming to bring the minimum connect time down to 45 minutes. This is achieved by a “couple of special gadgets,” said a senior airport official. The airport will feature three separate transfer screen banks as opposed to one central facility, which are located strategically throughout the terminal to minimize the distance passengers must walk between flights.
For a small group of passengers, only about 5%, the minimum connection time will be dropped down to just 30 minutes. Out of 41 total gates, 22 gates are equipped with at-gate arrival security, which means passengers with 30 minute connect times will be picked up at the aircraft, and walk out directly into the departure corridor for security screening and on to their departure gate.
For those with longer connections, Hamad International has many amenities for passengers. There are lounges throughout the terminal, which range from pay-per-use down to free of charge. There is even locker storage and shower facilities for all passengers, also free Quiet rooms, computer work stations, and children play areas are placed throughout the terminal. For longer transfers, a transit hotel with 200 rooms will be on site.
Operations at the airport are slated to begin in early 2014, with an initial capacity of 29 million passengers annually, increasing to 50 million within a few years. Once up and running, the airport will also host a 55,000 square meter cargo facility. The airport will also feature one of the world’s longest runways, ensuring that even the massive Airbus A380 can take off in the most oppressive heat conditions.