Abu Dhabi looks to new aviation era as $3bn terminal to open

Once fully operational in November, the new terminal will be able to handle 45 million people a year and process 11,000 passengers per hour

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Abu Dhabi International Airport's long-awaited Midfield terminal building is scheduled to begin operations in early November, bolstering the emirate's position as a global centre for trade and business.

Now known as Terminal A, the new building will accommodate up to 45 million passengers per year, process 11,000 travellers per hour and operate 79 aircraft at any given time, state-owned operator Abu Dhabi Airports said on Thursday.

"As Abu Dhabi’s new gateway to the world, Terminal A is an embodiment of Abu Dhabi Airports’ commitment to support the emirate’s sustainable economic development," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad, chairman of Abu Dhabi Airports.

"The opening of the facility, which is on par with the largest and grandest on our planet, turns over a new page in Abu Dhabi’s 55-year aviation history. A beacon of modernity and sophistication, it will be a pivotal driver for our emirate’s growth by spurring tourism and trade.”

Covering 742,000 square metres of built-up area, Terminal A is one of the largest airport terminals in the world and will significantly increase Abu Dhabi International Airport’s passenger and cargo capacity.

Airlines prepare for move to Terminal A

"Etihad Airways is excited and prepared to move into its new home at Terminal A ... we’re looking forward to the enhanced customer journey it will provide," Mohammed Al Bulooki, chief operating officer at Etihad Airways, told The National.

"Etihad is actively collaborating with Abu Dhabi Airports to ensure a seamless transition and will provide clear information to its guests about their departure and arrival terminals."

Etihad’s flight schedules for Terminal A are in the final stages of preparation and the airline will communicate directly with passengers regarding any changes that may affect them during this transition, he added.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between Hungary's Wizz Air and Abu Dhabi state holding company ADQ, also welcomed the move.

“We look forward to moving to Midfield terminal from the beginning of November," Johan Eidhagen, managing director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, told The National.

"Abu Dhabi reaffirms its leading position as a global aviation hub, providing passengers with speed and comfort for a seamless and digitised journey. Together, we are committed to enhancing the future of the industry to secure a thriving and sustainable aviation ecosystem.”

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, the low-cost joint venture with Etihad Airways, said the terminal opening in November will further improve the travel experience from the emirate.

"With its state-of-art infrastructure, the facility will further contribute to Abu Dhabi’s success of aviation industry and its ecosystem while providing Air Arabia with the opportunity to broaden its services, offering passengers an elevated travel experience from the capital, Abu Dhabi,” Adel Al Ali, group chief executive of Air Arabia, said.

Outlook for aviation in 2023 - Business Extra

Outlook for aviation in 2023 - Business Extra

The new terminal opening is a "significant development for the aviation landscape in Abu Dhabi and the broader Gulf region", said Linus Bauer, founder and managing director of Bauer Aviation Advisory.

"This expansion aligns with the continuing efforts to enhance airport infrastructure and accommodate the growing demand for air travel.

"The addition of the new terminal is likely to strengthen Abu Dhabi’s position as one of the regional aviation megahubs, alongside Dubai’s airport capacity expansions and Riyadh’s new planned terminal," he added.

The timing of the new terminal’s opening as air travel demand soars following the pandemic underscores "the region’s commitment to meeting passenger needs and capitalising on the strong rebound in travel", Mr Bauer said.

The move is expected to contribute to increased capacity in the region, facilitating smoother travel experiences for Etihad Airways' passengers and supporting the local economies, he added.

The new terminal, on which construction began in 2012, was originally scheduled for completion in 2017.

"The aviation world in the region has changed significantly since the original planned opening," said John Strickland, director of aviation consultancy JLS Consulting.

"Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways has become a more focused operation, low-cost carriers have become important players in Abu Dhabi and there has been growth around the region."

The terminal opening comes amid "growing demand and healthy market dynamics", he added.

Abu Dhabi is seeking to diversify non-oil sectors – as part of wider plans to reduce the economy's reliance on oil – with a focus on developing strategic industries including travel, tourism, cargo and logistics.

"This remarkable expansion of one of the busiest airports in the Middle East not only enhances connectivity but reaffirms our status as a hub for tourism, trade and commerce," said Saood Al Hosani, undersecretary of the emirate's Department of Culture and Tourism.

"For decades, Abu Dhabi has served as a gateway to the world, and the new terminal will unlock new avenues for cultural exchange, renewed exploration and unforgettable experiences – further contributing to the emirate welcoming more than 24 million visitors in 2023."

The new midfield terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport will enable home airline Etihad Airways' next growth phase, Etihad chief executive Antonoaldo Neves told The National in May.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline aims to triple its number of passengers to 30 million and double its fleet to 150 planes by 2030, aided by the new airport terminal, he said at the time.

The new terminal's opening comes amid a massive boom in air travel as the global aviation industry recovers from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Demand for travel has continued unabated despite higher air fares and inflationary pressure. A continuing mismatch between travel demand and available airline seats has sent fares soaring.

Global passenger traffic reached 94 per cent of pre-Covid levels in June, according to latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Passenger traffic through Abu Dhabi International Airport jumped 67 per cent year-on-year in the first six months of the year as it expanded its route network and added more airline customers.

A total of 10.2 million passengers used the airport in the January to June period, up from 6.2 million in the same time last year.

Abu Dhabi plans to increase the tourism sector's contribution to its gross domestic product to 12 per cent by 2030, up from 5 per cent this year, as the emirate continues to promote itself as a travel and culture destination, Mr Al Hosani said in June.

The UAE capital is “on track” to meet its target of attracting 24 million visitors this year, up from 18 million last year, DCT Abu Dhabi said.

Updated: August 31, 2023, 5:00 PM