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Flying High

October 2015

In an exclusive interview with Wealth Monitor, Eng. Mohamed Mubarak Al Mazrouei, CEO, Abu Dhabi Airports, says the fall in the crude oil price presents an opportunity for Abu Dhabi to become a leading global transportation hub

In July this year, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) set a record when 2 million passengers passed through the airport within a single month. What according to you is the reason behind this?
July saw two records set for passenger figures at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). Not only did the number of passengers traveling through the airport hit the two million mark for the first time ever, but the departing passengers figure also reach a record, with over a million travelers leaving from AUH. The figures in July 2015 were boosted by Ramadan and the Eid Al Fitr holiday, as well as the summer holiday season.
Please tell us AUH’s future plans in terms of terminal expansion, cargo services, more landing rights to airlines, etc?

TERMINAL EXPANSION
Abu Dhabi Airports has embarked on a multi-billion dollar expansion program, one of the world’s most ambitious airport redevelopment projects, supporting its vision to be the world’s leading airports group. The expansion of the airport is the result of massive growth in passenger numbers, a trend that began nearly ten years ago and is forecast to continue, placing further demand on the capital’s transportation infrastructure.
The largest single component of the expansion program is the construction of the Midfield Terminal Building (MTB), which is designed to serve as the primary gateway for the national carrier, Etihad Airways, and its partners operating to and from Abu Dhabi. Once opened it will increase Abu Dhabi International Airport’s overall capacity to 45 million passengers per year. It will be located between the airport’s two runways to allow for the shortest possible journey from runway to aircraft parking stand. The building will include passenger and cargo facilities, a transit hotel, and 28,000sqm of Duty Free retail, dining, and entertainment outlets.
Last year, several future expansion projects were approved for Abu Dhabi International Airport. These include the addition of nine new hard stands suitable for wide-body aircraft, the refurbishment of the Southern runway, and the development of the Automated People Mover system (APM) and Southern Runway Tunnel to connect passengers between the MTB and the existing and future terminals. At the moment, Abu Dhabi International Airport is also focusing on delivering the second phase of its Capacity Enhancement Program (CEP), the scope of which includes work to upgrade existing terminals.

So far several steps within this program have been completed. In March 2015, a number of new facilities opened at Terminal 1, whilst others were re-configured, to significantly improve the speed, efficiency, and enjoyment with which passengers move through the airport, as well as enhancing passenger security and continuing to ensure on-time aircraft departures in the midst of the increase in passenger and aircraft movements at the airport.

 

CARGO SERVICES
Cargo traffic at Abu Dhabi International Airport has been steadily growing, with almost 800,000 metric tons handled in 2014, an annual increase of 12.8%. In the first half of 2015, cargo activity comprised of 414,203 metric tons which represented a further 9.6% increase when compared to the first half of 2014. All cargo at Abu Dhabi International Airport is handled by Etihad Cargo Services, which operates an efficient cargo terminal, equipped with all necessary facilities, including: a bonded warehouse, transit zone, aircraft maintenance and mechanical handling, heated and refrigerated storage, food inspection services and quarantine.
In addition, Abu Dhabi Airports is developing Abu Dhabi Business City, an “Aerotropolis” comprising of economic free zones for foreign businesses looking to take advantage of the benefits of being based within the boundary of Abu Dhabi International Airport. The facilities include world–class amenities and premium services, such as warehousing facilities; an easy and quick company registration system; and help to obtain licenses, lease agreements, employee services, visas and other government services. Several major international transport and logistics companies have already signed leases for space in Abu Dhabi Business City, including FedEx and Aramex.

 
NEW AIRLINES
Due to its increased global connectivity and first-class airport offerings, complemented by Abu Dhabi’s growing popularity as a business and leisure destination in the Gulf region, Abu Dhabi International Airport will continue to remain a hub for airline operators when it comes to expanding their network to include new destinations or increase the frequency of existing operations. This will further stimulate new international and intercontinental flows to and from Abu Dhabi that, in turn, will fuel the development of local businesses, tourism and trade.

 
Airports across the GCC region are expanding in order to match the increasing traffic flow. Will this expansion lead to increased competition among airports in the region?

The Gulf region is within seven hours flying time for a large percentage of the world’s population and capital cities. Each airport in the Middle East operates on its own in terms of its relationships with airline partners, promotional activities and development programs.
In terms of competitive advantage, Abu Dhabi has already become one of the most desirable destinations in the Gulf region for holiday makers and for foreign business, both twin pillars of the Economic Vision 2030. An increasing number of leading hotels have opened in the capital. They will soon be joined by the new Zayed National Museum, and Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi art museums, injecting a fresh cultural experience to the many already on offer in the capital. Abu Dhabi also offers a favorable fiscal regime, a strong economy, and sophisticated financial services as well as a world-class international airport which is conveniently placed for accessing most of the capital’s hotels, tourist attractions and business districts.
Is there a need for greater cooperation among regional airport authorities for better and efficient air traffic movement?
Greater cooperation among regional aviation is a key to ensuring safe and efficient air traffic operations. It is very important to support planning, facilitate relevant information sharing and focus on where air traffic bottlenecks are emerging. Advanced air traffic control facilities and systems, equipped with first-rate technology and modern innovations, also play a crucial role. Abu Dhabi Airports is demonstrating its commitment to improving air traffic movement by continued investment in modern technology and the latest aviation systems.
Would the sharp drop in crude oil prices build any pressure on the region’s aviation sector growth?
We do not think so, and the growing number of passengers traveling through Abu Dhabi International Airport each month supports that view. Airlines will clearly benefit from a lower oil price, as fuel is one of their biggest costs. This means that the regional aviation industry can only continue to grow and it will therefore require the necessary infrastructure to sustain that growth. Abu Dhabi Airports remains committed to supporting the growth plans of airlines which use its airports, providing both them and their passengers with a high quality and state-of-the-art services, driven by technology and innovation. Thus, the fall in the oil price is in fact an opportunity that can help Abu Dhabi to become a leading global transportation hub, and for Abu Dhabi Airports to realize its vision of becoming the world’s leading airports group.

Midfield Terminal Building
In 2014, over 20 million passengers used Abu Dhabi International Airport as their origin, destination or transit point for international or domestic flights, an increase of 20% on the previous year. This rate of growth is expected to continue, with 24 million passengers forecast for 2015. It is estimated that in the next few years the number will have risen to more than 40 million passengers. In order to meet this growing demand, and to contribute to the long-term success of the aviation sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Airports is investing over 10 billion dirhams in the Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC).
This project is designed to serve as the primary gateway for the national carrier, Etihad Airways and its partners; it will be located between the airport’s two runways to allow for the shortest possible journey from runway to parking stand. The complex includes a full terminal building, known as the Midfield Terminal Building (MTB), as well as passenger and cargo facilities, duty free shops and restaurants. Together with the existing terminals at Abu Dhabi International Airport, the MTC will serve the increasing number of passengers that visit Abu Dhabi each year. The terminal is already 55% complete, and is expected to be 70% complete by the end 2015. It is due to become operational in the final quarter of 2017.

Profile
Al Mazrouei was previously Chief Executive of Manazel Real Estate, a residential property developer in Abu Dhabi, a position he held for more than three years. Before that, he was the Projects Director of the General Authority of Health Services and also held a number of roles in the Public Works Department. Mr. Al Mazrouei has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, with a degree from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA. He also served as a Lieutenant in the UAE Armed Forces.

 

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