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Dammam full of Eastern promise

Posted 18 September 2018 · Add Comment

Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province is being fired into life by ambitious plans for Dammam’s international airport, as Alan Peaford reports.

For many years the airport at Dammam lay virtually dormant. Each year, barely four million passengers – mostly there for the oil and gas and other industrial ventures – passed through its terminal.
But things are changing.
Turki Abdullah Al-Jawini, chief executive of Dammam Airports Company (DACO), is convinced that the changing approach in the kingdom and the Eastern Province suggests that Saudi Arabia’s third largest airport is on a roll.
“It wasn’t until 2009 that the airport started to show positive trends,” Al Jawini said. “Now King Fahd International Airport has grown from 4.7 million passengers to close to 10 million last year, with a double-digit annual growth rate, which is quite positive,” he said.
But it is not stopping there. Dammam Airport Company is utilising international contractors and services businesses to capitalise on opportunities to ride the wave of an expected surge in passenger traffic as the kingdom invests in tourism and entertainment projects to transform its oil-reliant economy.
Al-Jawini is anticipating a further 6% growth in 2018 and more to come.
“We expect a great flow of tourist traffic as we are an eastern gateway into the kingdom and we expect to get a good portion of the new traffic,” Al-Jawini said.
At the recent Airport Show in Dubai, Al Jawini signed a deal with Vanderlande to introduce a state-of-the-art baggage-handling system to improve the passenger experience. “We also have the first ‘true concept’ duty free store in Saudi Arabia, with international standards and recognised global brands,” Al Jawini said. “We are recognising the growing number of international business travellers and visitors.”
Al Jawini believes that expansion plans for the airport will see a doubling of retail space to around 25,000sqm. He expects passenger numbers to treble by 2025 to an estimated 30 million passengers a year.
DACO also signed an agreement with Serco Middle East to install cutting-edge fire and rescue services at the airport, as well as training services. Dammam is the first Saudi airport to utilise an international service provider’s expertise in fire-fighting systems, and will help raise the airport’s safety standards.
The company is also investing in expanding cargo operations
“The strategic location of Dammam Airport as an eastern gateway means it is perfectly situated to create a logistics hub,” Al Jawini explained.
“Dammam is just a few hours by car to several capitals. Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar are all within driving distance. The business is there for the region. The largest companies – particularly oil and gas businesses – are close by. There are requirements for travel to many places in the world, and for goods.”
Al Jawini believes tourism could also benefit the airport.
“The region is on the east coast. There are beautiful beaches and easy access to the capital. With government movement towards easing visa requirements, there will be great demand,” he said.
Dammam was recently granted rights to bring Umrah traffic from South East Asia to Saudi Arabia via the airport, with transfers to domestic airlines to Jeddah and Medinah.
International airlines are also seeing the potential in King Fahd and now it has some 37 airlines serving 60 international and domestic destinations.
With Saudi Gulf establishing its main base at KFIA, Al Jawini sees a bright future for domestic growth too.
“About 45% of our passengers are domestic. People commute north to south, east to west for business, pleasure or visiting their families. With more Saudi operators coming in we are seeing increasing frequencies and capacity growth.
“We are very happy that Saudi Gulf is based in Dammam and anticipate that it will grow significantly to serve this region.”
More land alongside the existing terminal has already been earmarked for expansion. “With another few projects we will announce this year, we can increase to 15 million. Then comes major expansion. Half the assigned terminal area remains unused; that will be a mega-project. We have to decide when we do require that space and then start construction accordingly.”
One thing is for sure, Dammam will be ready to serve the growth.
 

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