By Beatrice Thomas
Hamad International Airport finally opens after lengthy delays; aviation chief heralds 'world-class' facility
Doha's $15bn new international airport will be able to accommodate up to 70 million passengers annually and will eventually become a dedicated terminal for Qatar Airways, it was revealed at its official launch on Wednesday.
Hamad International Airport officially welcomed its first passengers with a 40-minute late Flydubai flight arriving about an hour after a Qatar Airways plane, carrying dignitaries and members of the airport steering committee made the first official touchdown to a water canon salute.
Speaking to the media after disembarking from the QA flight, the first time passengers in Doha were able to use a aerobridge, committee chairman Abdul Aziz Mohamad Al Noaimi heralded the event as the result of hard work in face of challenges.
The airport missed several deadlines for opening, including the end of 2012, April 1 2013 and the end of last year as a result firstly of a redesign and later regulatory issues.
"Every day we showed patience in order to face challenges, which have made our willingness even stronger to establish this venue that will be the pride of this and future generations," Al Noaimi said.
"Today we achieved what we promised - we are opening the airport."
Al Noaimi said the airport, which he confirmed had a final cost "more or less" of $15bn, will handle 30 million passengers from day one, building up to 50 million passengers when the third stage is finished in a few years.
However he said based on the ability of the now-old Doha airport to process 17 million passengers a year compared to its capacity of nine million he believed "we can service up to 70 million passengers."
He said Qatar was currently constructing a second terminal building, referred to as phase three of HIA, and he revealed "all airlines will transfer to that building with the exception of Qatar Airlines."
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the most recent delays were the result of "certain issues raised by authorities about international standards and those needed to be addressed."
"Those took some time, longer than expected," he said. "But, we should forget about the past and look to the future.
Al Noaimi acknowledged the delay had affected Qatar Airways' ability to expand its network of destinations but said "from now on I think Qatar Airways will go to high speed in opening new destinations."
Qatar Transport Minister Jassim Saif Ahmed Al Sulaiyi said the part of the old airport would make way for "green areas" and streets, however plans were also under consideration for using it as an aviation faculty and a base for Gulf Helicopters.
"We have some ideas," he said
Ten airlines start operations from HIA today, with remaining airlines, including the national carrier to begin operations on May 27.
The project, which was started in 2005, comprises 100 buildings, including a 600,000sq m passenger terminal with three concourses and 33 contact gates. This will eventually be increased to five concourses and 65 contact gates, including eight for the A380 in the final build-out.
The terminal also features 16 lounges, 26 art installations, more than 100 f & b and retail outlets, transit hotel, swimming pool, luxury spa, squash courts and a 4-storey catering facility that is one of the largest in the world.
Also, an on site public mosque can accommodate 500 worshippers.
"HIA is a world-class aviation hub purpose-built to cater to rapidly evolving aviation and passenger needs of the 21st century," al Noaimi said.