The number of foreign pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia’s Muslim holy sites has increased more than 75 times during the past 70 years, Arab News has reported.
General director of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, the main entry point for visitors to the two holy mosques in Makkah, Abdulhamid Abal Arry said the number of pilgrims had increased from 23,863 in 1941 to 8.3m in 2012.
Already 1.67m pilgrims had arrived by air into Jeddah this season.
“The number of Muslims wishing to perform Haj around the world has been on the rise since 1927,” Abal Arry said.
“Since then, the kingdom has witnessed huge developments. The government has ordered entities to conduct studies on establishing comprehensive services for pilgrims in order to accommodate the burgeoning numbers.”
Pilgrim numbers have been cut this year, and for the next two years, while the Grand Mosque undergoes a massive $21bn expansion and renovation to increase its capacity to 2m pilgrims.
King Abdulaziz airport also has seen passenger numbers grow almost four-fold from 7.79m during its first full year of operation in 1983, to 27.2m in 2012, most of which are pilgrims during the Umrah and Haj seasons.
The airport receives more than 40 percent of the total number of the kingdom's incoming passengers, Abay Arry said.
“The airport, which is also the western gateway for Saudi Arabia, plays a distinctive role in serving the guests of God, with at least 60 percent of pilgrims using the terminal, making it one of the busiest in the kingdom,” he said.
The airport is operating at double its capacity and is struggling to cope without any major development for years.
Abay Arry conceded the vital facilities and technical systems had became outdated.
The government has announced an expansion program, including increasing capacity at the south and north halls, a new terminal, a doubling of passenger waiting areas and larger prayer area.