Queen Ali International Airport (QAIA)  is gaining prominence as an aviation gateway for the region in terms of passenger traffic and expansion, according to airport developers.
Kjeld Binger, chief executive officer of Airport International Group (AIG), which is the Jordanian consortium responsible for the rehabilitation, expansion and operation of the airport, estimated the growth in passenger numbers at QAIA at 20 per cent year on year.
Noting that passenger traffic last August went up by 23 per cent compared with August last year, he said: “In 2011, the number of passengers at the airport was approximately 5.5 million while this year it is expected to be around 6.2 million.”
In a recent interview with The Jordan Times at his office, Binger attributed the rise in passenger traffic to regional developments.
“Is this huge growth sustainable? I don’t think so. It is a growth dictated by regional instability,” the Danish national said, indicating that unrest and uncertainties in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has changed traffic patterns.
For example, although Libya has opened up its airports for air traffic, many airlines prefer not to fly to the North African country directly. Noting that unrest in the MENA has made Amman a gateway for other places in the region, Binger mentioned that for tourists coming to the region, the mix has also been changing.
“A 7 per cent drop in tourists from typical Western countries, Europe and the US, was offset by a 12 per cent increase in the inflow of tourists from the MENA region. So Jordan is benefiting from this change in patterns,” the AIG chief explained.
Binger, who was appointed as AIG chief in November last year, expressed optimism that the inflow of passengers into Jordan would continue to pick up if stability restored to the region.
“I think the position of Jordan is very unique. The fact that Jordan during this difficult time has been able to maintain its position as a safe haven is very important and is recognised by people all over the world,” he said.
“When I speak to airlines they have a very clear perception of Jordan. So Jordan is a very interesting market in the future,” he added, stressing that the development of new hotels and the exposure of the Dead Sea as a conference area and the fact the World Economic Forum is coming to the country next year are all helping and working in the right direction.
Binger revealed that QAIA’s new passenger terminal will be ready to open by the end of February 2013, noting that the ‘iconic’ facility will start to receive passengers shortly after.
“We have not picked an exact date for opening the terminal for passengers but it has to be practical. A day when traffic movement is as slow as possible in order not to disturb operations at the airport,” he said.
Noting the date has to be convenient for both passengers and airlines, Binger indicated that moving from the old terminal to the new one would be a ‘big and complicated process’ as it will be overnight and in one shot.
“For example, we may have to transfer passengers who would arrive at the old terminal at 10:00pm and depart from the new terminal just few hours later,” he noted.
Capacity of new terminal
The AIG boss explained that the 13 gates in the existing airport are more than sufficient for the number of passengers, specifying the airport’s infrastructure such as check-in and security facilities as the areas that needed expansion as they accommodate only 3.5 million passengers per year.
“Now the airport serves around 6 million passengers a year, so it is a huge load on these facilities but not on the gates,” he said, indicating that the first two phases of the new terminal, to be ready late February, will not increase the number of gates which can still accommodate 7 million passengers per year.
“The terminal itself in terms of check-in and security facilities will have the capacity of up to 10 million to 12 million travellers a year,” he added.
The next phase of the expansion, to be completed late 2014, will replace the old terminal, increasing the number of gates to 20 and raising the capacity to over 9 million passengers per year.
Public-private partnership, project cost
Binger described the government’s decision to go for a public-private partnership model to expand QAIA as ‘very good’ because Jordan could not have financed the airport expansion alone.
“To come up with a decision to have an iconic airport like this one was also a good move by authorities,” he said.
The design of the new airport, according to AIG, is created by well-known architect Norman Foster.
The stand out characteristic is the roof design that was inspired by Bedouin tents. It is composed of 127 concrete domes.
According to Binger, the accumulated cost of the first phase is $850 million, while the overall cost of the project is set to exceed $1 billion.
Estimating the revenues generated by the airport for the Jordanian government since the contract was signed with AIG in 2007 at over $253 million, Binger described the figure as a substantial amount when taking into account this large investment will be handed over to the government after 25 years.
Under the built, operate and transfer (BOT) deal, the government retains ownership of the airport after 25 years, and receives 54.4 per cent for the first six year and 54.6 per cent of gross revenues for the remainder of the term.
He estimated annual revenues for the government to be more than JD50 million.
Once the new terminal is ready, AIG plans to hire 50 employees in addition to its current staff are 250 people , he said, adding that the new airport is expected to create several hundreds more jobs.
Binger concluded that AIG plans to promote Jordan as tourist destination, as the country is full of historical and tourist attractions.