JEDDAH, Feb 12: Plans are under way to transform the Kingdom’s international airports into state-owned companies, according to Abdullah Ruhaimy, president of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
In an interview with Al-Majalla magazine, a sister publication of Arab News, to be published on Wednesday, he said the GACA would start commercial operation of airports within three years.
“The international airports will be given corporate identity with independent financial status before being transferred to the ownership of companies fully owned by the state,” he explained.
Ruhaimy said the new plan would improve management of these airports. “This will eventually help the state take a decision on privatization of these airports.” He said the authority was studying a proposal on setting up business cities within the Kingdom’s airports. “There is a plan to establish an exhibition center and a hotel at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam,” he said, adding that many businessmen in the Eastern Province had expressed their interest in the project. He referred to GACA’s efforts in licensing two private domestic airlines, NAS and Sama.
“We have sought private sector participation for the development of the Haj Terminal at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah,” he said.
The Haj Terminal project, as well as a desalination plant project, will be carried out by the private sector on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) system.
He said the authority would soon declare the company that has won the contract for building and managing new terminals at King Abdul Aziz Airport. The new Jeddah airport expansion aims at receiving 80 million passengers annually and 63 aircraft of varying sizes daily.
Crown Prince Sultan last month signed an SR902.91 million ($240.77 million) contract with Al-Mabani Company to develop and upgrade aviation facilities of Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport as part of the expansion project.
“The contract covers expansion of the airport’s tarmac and runways in order to increase its annual capacity to 80 million passengers,” a GACA statement said.
The work will also include construction of a new aircraft parking facility west of the Haj Terminal as well as modernization of ground lights systems and information technology infrastructure. Under the project, 6.5 km square meter area will be set aside for commercial projects including hotels and offices of companies.
The new expansion project, which is estimated to cost SR18 billion ($4.8 billion), will enable the airport to receive large jumbo jets, including the A380, the 555-seat Airbus jet taking to the skies this year after much publicized delays.
The Jeddah airport expansion is significant as it represents the Kingdom’s main gateway for millions of foreign pilgrims. The expansion involves the construction of two new terminals and renovation of the existing South Terminal, a new concourse with 25 gates, three connector buildings and an extensive upgrade of landside and airside infrastructure facilities.
Saudi Arabia has so far spend more than SR50 billion on airports. The GACA plans to invest SR30 billion in expanding airports in Jeddah, Madinah and Tabuk in order to meet a growing number of passengers and the requirements of two new domestic private airlines.
There are three international airports in the Kingdom: King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah, King Khaled Airport in Riyadh and King Fahd Airport in Dammam.
Last June, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced plans to convert Prince Muhammad ibn Abdul Aziz Airport in Madinah into an international airport considering Madinah’s significant role in the Islamic world and the large turnout of pilgrims to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque year round. There are plans to establish another international airport at King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh, 200 km north of Jeddah.