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Karbala project set to open up Iraq

Posted 3 July 2017 · Add Comment

Work has started to create a new airport at Karbala, southern Iraq, with facilities also due to be improved at nearby Najaf. Alan Dron reports.

A major addition to the Middle East’s portfolio of airports will appear as early as 2018, when the initial phase of the new Karbala International Airport (KIA) becomes operational.
The airport will be situated on the outskirts of Karbala, about 60km southwest of Baghdad and about 40km north of Najaf. It is expected to be particularly used for religious tourism traffic.
Construction of the airport is part of the Iraqi Government’s efforts to diversify the economy away from dependence on the oil and gas sector, with considerable employment being generated, both by the construction process and by the airport itself, once it opens.
The project dates back to 2008, when the Iraqi Government, the country’s transport ministry and the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA), announced the creation of a new airport in Karbala Governorate, strategically located between the cities of Karbala, Najaf and Al Hillah.
The French company, Aéroports de Paris Ingénierie (ADPI), was contracted by the transport ministry to conduct site selection studies, leading to the development of an airport masterplan.
Detailed design of the facility consists of two runways, taxiways and aprons, three passenger terminal buildings and associated support facilities, such as a fuel farm. There will also be a 62metre air traffic control tower.
The Al Rida Investment Group (RIG) and Khairat Al-Subtain (KAS) are privately financing
the project.
Karbala, like Najaf Airport, will act as a gateway to one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Shia Moslems.
“It’s going to open up Iraq,” said Miles Roberts, general manager of Copperchase Iraq, which is constructing the new facility.
While the battle to push back Daesh in the north and centre of Iraq continues, security in the south, around the new airport’s site, has never been a problem. “Down here, they never really had any issues. People will feel safer here than even flying into Baghdad,” Roberts added.
UK-based Copperchase has been involved in more than 150 airport projects worldwide since the 1990s, with the Middle East having been a particular focus for the company.
The new airport will be built in four phases. Phase one will see the creation of a terminal initially capable of handling two million passengers annually, but four million after around a year in service. This is described as a functional airport that will allow operations to get under way.
Revenues from the airport’s operation will be reinvested in the facility. The timetable for future expansion is dependent on the level of those revenues, but phase two will see capacity rise to six million, with two further phases possible over the following decade.
The initial runway will be 4,500m – the longest in Iraq and large enough, said Roberts, “for anything except the Space Shuttle”.
The land for the new airport measures 9km by 6km and is open countryside: “There’s been a certain amount of quarrying in one corner, but otherwise it’s been used for agriculture.”
Building time for the first phase is scheduled as two years, but Copperchase hopes to complete it in 18 months. With that tight schedule in mind, it has employed several extremely experienced senior personnel, who have constructed airports in daunting conditions around the world.
Project manager, Pieter van der Schraaf, for example, has handled more than 20 airport projects in locations as diverse as Bangkok, Rotterdam and Doha, while one of the world’s leading authorities on runway design, John Napton, of the UK’s Newcastle University, is contracted as a consultant.
In addition to building the airport, Copperchase has also secured the rights to operate it for the next 25 years.
Several airlines have already expressed in interest in operating from the new airport, said Roberts, but he was not yet in a position to name them.
Over time, the company intends to develop additional elements of the airport from operating revenue profits. But it is also seeking investors who may want to take on elements of the airport operation or associated activities, such as hotels, car parking, retail and other facets.
When operational, the airport will ease travel for millions of religious pilgrims, who visit Karbala each year, said Nahidh Mohammed Salih, chairman of Copperchase’s Iraqi business.
Salih said the project’s three planned phases would cost $2 billion. However, work on the second and third phases would depend on demand, he added.
Meanwhile, Copperchase is also involved in building up maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities at Najaf Airport. Currently, there are no third-party major servicing facilities in Iraq. The company’s plan is, initially, to develop a line maintenance capability at Najaf, with hangar maintenance being added almost immediately.
“We will focus on A checks for the first four to six months, then build up to ‘C’ checks by the back end of 2018,” said David Plumpton, technical director of Lama Aviation Services, a fully owned subsidiary of Copperchase.
There is an obvious need for improved maintenance facilities in the country: “For example, Iraq Airways send a lot of their aircraft to other countries, predominantly Turkey,” said Plumpton. “There’s not enough hangarage in Iraq to support their own requirements, let alone those of the surrounding countries. Iran, we know, has a very strong maintenance requirement. There’s hangarage at Baghdad, but no significant third-party maintenance hangars.”
The work on building up an MRO capability at Najaf will take place in two phases. “The first will be a two-bay hangar for Airbus A320 or Boeing 737-sized aircraft,” explained Plumpton. “A second hangar will bring an additional two bays, although this may end up as a single bay big enough for an Airbus A330 or Boeing 777, depending on customer reaction. We know a certain number of A330s and 777s would like to fly into Najaf.”
Lama Aviation Services will also operate the new hangar.
That new MRO capability would boost Najaf Airport’s attractiveness to foreign carriers, said Plumpton: “We know there have been operators that have resisted flying into Najaf because there’s no maintenance capability.”
Also at Najaf, Lama hopes to take on the contract for ground-handling currently undertaken by the airport authorities.
Najaf is a former military airbase that now functions as a small, but expanding, regional airport, with a 3,000metre runway and four departure gates. Opened in 2008, it now handles services from more than 20 airlines. Iranian carriers are prominent, although several Gulf carriers also operate there.
Together, the new and expanded facilities at the two airports will considerably improve transport options in the southern part of Iraq.

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