Transport minister: New Hamad airport will ‘soft launch’ in January

airport

Amid speculation over when the new Hamad International Airport is expected to launch, Qatar’s Minister of Transport has said that limited passenger operations will begin in January, and cargo services will start at the new facility next month.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Qatar International Exhibition for Transport and Logistics, Jassim Seif Ahmed Al Sulaiti told journalists:

“The airport will partially open in January 2014 and some test flights will take place during the same period.”

Al Sulaiti also announced that the airport’s 77,000 square meter cargo facility will come into service in December, but did not give any details about which airlines would be first to use it.

During a tour of the airport last month, HIA’s cargo team said that they were ready and waiting for the go-ahead to begin working in the new terminal. They added that the shipment of goods would likely be handled concurrently in both the old airport and in HIA for a period.

Soft launch

The minister’s comments about a “partial opening” signal a soft launch for passenger services, similar to the planned opening on April 1 this year, which was delayed at the last minute due to a failure to pass civil defense checks.

For that launch, airport authorities had planned to initially open HIA with some 10 budget airlines, with Qatar Airways moving to the new facility at a later date.

However, the minister has not given any further details about the new “partial opening,” so it’s unclear whether he is announcing a full transfer of selected airlines, or just a few trial flights.

Qatar Airways - who will operate the new airport – declined to comment this morning, referring all enquiries to the HIA Steering Committee, who told Doha News that they were not able to offer any further details.

The minister told journalists that more information would be revealed on Dec. 16 at a press conference at the new airport terminal, but the HIA steering committee was also unable to confirm whether this would take place.

Delays

Speculation about the opening of the long-awaited new facility has been rife for some time, and authorities have signaled several potential opening dates in the past year, including a December 2013 target, which was later shifted to early 2014.

To add to the confusion, DIA executive vice-president Patrick Muller told Doha News earlier this month that the new airport was “ready for a soft launch in April,” stating that contracts were in place to accommodate a spring 2014 opening:

“As the operator of the airport, we’re geared up for a soft opening in April … We suggested a soft opening (among other options), followed by a full commercial transfer to the new airport.”

HIA, a $15.5 billion project, was originally slated for completion in 2009. Two official opening dates have come and gone in the last two years: Dec. 12, 2012 (12/12/12), and April 1, 2013.

When questioned by reporters about the April delay, Al Sulaiti told the Peninsula:

“It is a huge project (the airport) with many facilities. There were some issues the steering committee and other authorities are doing their best to address.”

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