Planes of Influence

Kuwait Airport Expansion

In a wave of air industry infrastructure projects, the new passenger terminal at Kuwait International Airport is stealing the spotlight for its broad economic impact.

Kuwait International Airport is expanding, preparing for the ever-greater number of travelers it receives and connects each day. In addition to the ambitious new passenger terminal that will completely replace the existing one, a secondary project worth USD492 million, led by a joint venture between Avic IHC and Al-Dar E&C, will be undertaken, including expansion and renovation of the current runways and other facilities and construction of a new runway and an air control tower.

Turkey-based Limak Construction, of Limak Holding Group, will build the cutting-edge terminal at a cost of USD4.27 billion. Construction started in May 2017 with an original completion date at the end of 2022. But, due to its government-deemed strategic importance, Limak agreed to shorten the timeline from six to four years—completion is now expected by 2020.
It will include many car parks, a transit hotel, and shelters on a 6.8-million-sqm area. The new terminal will feature a 25m-high center with three symmetrical wings for the 51 departure gates, the total facade spanning 1.2km.
Beyond the aesthetics of the architecture, the roof will include 66,000 solar panels that will generate 12MW, or 10% of the terminal’s electricity needs, and will use construction material responsive to the climate to minimize energy use. Indeed, the project aims to gain LEED gold sustainability certification to become the first terminal in the world to achieve this environmental accreditation. In terms of scale, cost, and commitment to the environment, it is comparable to the Sheikh Jaber al Ahmad al Sabah causeway project and the South Saad Al Abdullah environmentally smart city project, two other groundbreaking projects aimed at answering Kuwait’s fast-growing infrastructure needs.
The first phase of the project will add 13 million passengers a year in capacity to the airport. Indeed, air traffic through Kuwait International Airport has increased by 10% annually over the last 10 years, reaching 12 million passengers in 2016 and will exceed 23 million in 2027, according to projections. While most of the traffic is from business travelers, the state plans to invest USD1 billion in tourism promotion over the next seven years. Travel and tourism investment in Kuwait should rise 1.5% per year in the next 10 years, reaching an annual USD445 million in 2027.
The airport extension is part of a larger GCC trend. Dubai recently awarded a contract to expand its international terminal’s capacity from 5 million to 26.5 million passengers, while Saudi Arabia is also expanding airport capacity. The project aims at transforming Kuwait into a regional air hub, and like Dubai, creating further business and economic diversification as oil prices plunge. As similar expansions and diversification efforts filter through the GCC, regional competition for airlines and aviation industries grows.
By the same token, the new terminal is also a physical manifestation of the growing economic influence of Turkey in the GCC, particularly in Kuwait. This is the single-largest tender won abroad by Turkish contractors, and President Erdoğan of Turkey was present alongside Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al Sabah to inaugurate the start of construction of the new terminal. The Minister of Social Affairs and Labor and Minister of State for Economic Affairs HE Hind Subaih Barrak Al-Subaih encouraged Turkish companies to search for more investment opportunities in Kuwait. Turkish officials expressed their wish for larger technology transfers, bilateral inter-SME business development, and education initiatives. Truly, the airport is viewed as an economic and cultural link, as evidenced by the declarations of ministers from the two countries.
The airport extension, while impressive in itself, stands for much more than a bigger airport. From integrating sustainable building elements to growing leisure tourism and deepening links to Turkey, the new terminal interconnects passengers as well as many aspects of Kuwait’s long-term strategy of economic diversification.