Doha’s much-anticipated new airport is now expected to open to some passenger traffic by the middle of 2014, considerably later than the January 2014 date signaled by the transport minister last year.
In a statement released this morning, the chairman of the Hamad International Airport (HIA) steering committee Abdul Aziz Mohammad Al-Noaimi said that the airport is now “on track for a phased opening by mid-year 2014.”
This new estimate for the airport’s opening is aligned with comments made by a senior airport executive at the airport, who told Doha News in November that the airport was “geared up for a soft opening in April.”
Two official opening dates for HIA have come and gone in the last three years: Dec. 12, 2012 (12/12/12), and April 1, 2013.
In released remarks, Al-Noaimi said that the delays to the airport – which was originally slated for completion in 2009 – had been caused by “changes requested during construction to expand the project, as well as challenges we faced regarding some contracts.”
At a press conference held at the new airport today, he emphasized that the delay was not related to safety or security issues, but was in fact due to issues with contractors.
He did not refer to the airport’s failure to meet civil defense safety requirements, an issue which led to the cancelation of a planned soft launch on April 1st 2013, just hours before the first aircraft was due to land at the new facility.
He explained that the airport’s premium facilities and lounges “still need some work,” a reference to an ongoing legal wrangle with German/Emirati company Lindner Depa Interiors, which Qatar Airways claims failed to complete the $245 million construction of 19 airport lounges on time.
Despite these issues, all passenger facilities at HIA should be ready by mid-April, according to Al-Noaimi. After this, airport operators Qatar Airways will need another month for testing of the airport and for the training of staff, he explained, adding that a date for the “phased launch” would be announced when all work on passenger facilities had been completed. He stressed that this date ”would not exceed the middle of this year.”
No more details about the opening plans were given, so it remains unclear which airlines will transfer to the new airport in the initial phase.
Al-Noaimi was also keen to emphasize that work on further expansion of the airport – known as “the third phase” - has already begun, despite a planned start date of 2015. This work will expand the main terminal and add a training center, a rail station, car rental facilities, a “sea rescue” harbor and a multi-story parking structure.
It appears that many of the airport’s finer details are also now in place. On a tour of HIA today, journalists were shown a monorail within the passenger terminal; a spa, squash courts and a swimming pool (open to the public for a fee); a public mosque; and a host of other buildings on the site, including the air traffic control tower and the Emiri terminal.
Despite the announcement of the handling of the first Qatar Airways cargo shipment at HIA’s new cargo terminal last December, it appears that no cargo flights have actually landed at the airport so far.
According to the Gulf Times, the airport’s new facility is only being used to store cargo at the moment.
“We are using the cargo terminal for the freight (already), but the actual landing (of the cargo flights) will take place a month’s time from now,” al-Noaimi is quoted as saying in the newspaper.
Edited on January 17th to add details about the airport’s cargo flights, which al-Noaimi has confirmed have not yet begun.