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Sat 14 Sep 2013 11:02 AM

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The troubles with Doha's new airport

Ed Attwood criticises the lack of transparency as he struggles to find out what is going on

The troubles with Doha's new airport

The world’s longest runway. The world’s biggest aircraft hangar. Qatar’s spanking new Hamad International Airport is now, sadly, threatening to add to this list of superlatives with a marginally less positive moniker — the world’s most-delayed airport.

There isn’t really the space in this column to go into the lengthy history of Qatar’s attempts to get the facility off the ground. In brief, the airport was originally due to be completed in 2009, but has since missed a succession of launch dates — the most recent being the end of 2012, 1 April this year and the end of 2013. The fact that it will not now open this year was revealed, almost as an aside, as a press conference in Chengdu just a few days ago.

Over the course of the last couple of years, the relationship between contractors and the airport’s management team (led by Qatar Airways) has grown ever more fractious. Dubai-based interiors specialist Depa was kicked off the project last year, after having been accused of failing to complete work on 19 lounges. Depa then pointed out that it had been denied access to the site for the first nine months of its 16-month contract period.

The buck then passed to main contractor Bechtel, which was accused of being “complacent” in meeting its targets. Bechtel has stayed pretty quiet on the issue, saying that the work is for the most part done. Intriguingly, the senior commissioning manager for KEO International Consultants, Kirk Rosenbaum, told a conference in Doha in May that:  “I was there the last night with QCD [Qatar Civil Defence] going through the building. There was power on, there were staff there, there were muffins in the cafe ready to sell to passengers.”

So what exactly needs to be done to allow the airport to open? Apart from issues to do with “newly introduced safety requirements” — a nebulous term given that we haven’t been told what those requirements are - most observers are at a loss.

To say that Doha needs Hamad International is an understatement. Fans of Qatar Airways – and there are many, including me — may love the airline product, but the airport itself is creaking at the seams. Due to the terminal’s relatively small size and the fact that there are no air bridges, every single passenger is bussed from waiting area to plane, on what often feels like a tour of misery around Doha’s southern suburbs.

Passengers in transit face a crowded wait; the airport’s design capacity is for 12 million passengers a year, and last year over 21 million travellers passed through the facility. It also must be the only airport in the world where passengers wait to visit the lavatory on the plane, rather than in the terminal. At peak times, the queues of people waiting at immigration to enter Qatar is frankly depressing — though, of course, this is hardly a phenomenon limited to Doha.

What is frustrating is the lack of transparency about what exactly is going on. Calls to Qatar Airways go unanswered. There is no new launch date, no explanation for the delay, and nobody being held to account. In December last year, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said Hamad International would not “fail” like Berlin’s disastrous Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport. Last week, it was reported that the German airport had around 66,000 problems that still needed fixing — including lights that won’t turn off, and smoke detectors that won’t shut up because they’re sited next to ventilation shafts. Berlin is hoping to open at least a few gates by spring next year — but even then it will only be three years behind schedule. The jury’s still out as to whether Hamad International will take even longer to complete.

Ed Attwood is the Editor of Arabian Business.

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Robert 6 years ago

Acutally the New Doha International Airport was originally planned to be opened on time for the Asian Games in 2006. Something most people don't even know anymore since there were so many new launch dates since then. 2008, then 09, then 12/12/12, then 1st April 2013, etc.

Fatima 6 years ago

Frustrating indeed. Hope they will be ready by 2022 :-D

George Thomas 6 years ago

Well said. Me and my family had to wait for atleast 20 minutes to enter into the toilets during a changeover flight on way to Malaysia. And condition of the toilets were not befitting an international standard airport. Have never faced such an issue at any of the modern airports. Hope they get their act right quickly.

Nafarat 6 years ago

I guess you also need to add the super-delayed Doha metro project scheduled to open in 2026.. ;-)
It is better if they go back to ground zero: two roundabouts and one palm tree.. that makes a wonderful, peaceful Doha.. ;-)

Mohammed 6 years ago

No it wasnt. The Asian Games had a separate terminal for the atheletes. The Airport was scheudled for 2009.

Saqib khan 6 years ago

They should have taken Training Course from Dubai to start any project in Qatar.

Paul 6 years ago

The airport is not the only construction delay in Qatar.
Here are three other well-known examples:
1 - Sidra Hospital, announced to open in 2010, still not yet open after 3 years!
2 - The Renaissance property, the Courtyard by Marriott, the Marriott Executive Apartments (all scheduled to open in 2007) opened partially in 2012 and some not yet open.
3 - The Pearl - to be completed in 2008 (works still on going in 2013 and beyond)

There are so many other examples that would be very embarrassing to expose the real precarious situation in Qatar of the construction industry.

The problem can be associated to highly incompetent local senior management, often with no experience and know-how but occupying top management positions, with decision power but taking no decisions or often the wrong ones at the wrong time!
Working in the Qatari Construction Industry can drive anybody insane and this is certainly confirmed by anyone who is or was there!

mentabolism 6 years ago

how come there is a lot of Doha Bashing on this site!?
It seems that this site finds it hard to digest the fact that another country in the region is progressing and trying to develop!

Paul 6 years ago

its not about bashing for bashing. Its about reporting facts. Good or bad they must be reported and not leave the public mis-informed!

lady lucky 6 years ago

The extension to Hamad Hospital, topped out in 2006. Still not open.
D ring took 6 years to open a 7 KM stretch.
Losail to completed the day before the world cup kicks off?
Qatar has a credibility problem, most of the construction industry knows it. right now it looks like only China will be available to build all their "infrastructure"