Ready to write the next chapter
The opening of Abu Dhabi International Airport’s eagerly awaited Terminal A is expected to signal the dawn of an exciting new era for the UAE gateway, writes Joe Bates.
Without doubt the opening of the new state-of-the-art Terminal A at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) is a game changer for the UAE gateway, as it now has a world-class passenger facility capable of matching its ambitions, meeting long-term demand, and taking the passenger experience to the next level.
In facts and figures, covering a total floor area of 742,000sqm, Terminal A is among the largest airport terminals in the world and will significantly increase Abu Dhabi International Airport’s passenger and cargo capacity.
Terminal A is, for example, capable of accommodating up to 45 million passengers per year – more than double AUH’s previous capacity.
It can process some 11,000 travellers per hour, handle 79 flights simultaneously, ensure that AUH maintains its enviable status of being able to accommodate 45 minute transfer times for connecting passengers, and as good as guarantee average walk times of just 12 minutes from kerb to gate.
Operator, Abu Dhabi Airports, certainly doesn’t hold back in highlighting the importance of its new addition, saying that Terminal A will “further strengthen Abu Dhabi’s global standing as an aviation hub” and allow the airlines to boost their presence in Abu Dhabi in response to growing demand.
It is also quick to point out that the new terminal will boast some of the most advanced technology on the planet – including biometric systems designed to streamline the screening and boarding process – and more than 35,000 square metres of retail and F&B space for passengers to shop, dine and enjoy.
Indeed, Abu Dhabi Airports is confident that Terminal A will transform the end-to-end travel experience for all passengers passing through the airport, including the rising number of travellers transferring to other destination’s primarily with home-based carrier, Etihad Airways.
Talking on the day Terminal A opened, Abu Dhabi Airports’ managing director and interim CEO, Elena Sorlini, said: “This is a momentous occasion for Abu Dhabi Airports and the emirate.
“The official opening of Terminal A ushers a new era for air travel in Abu Dhabi. I’m grateful for the hard work from my colleagues, and partners across the aviation sector, that has helped us reach this historical milestone.
“We look forward to sharing the state-of-the-art facilities available at Terminal A with the world and to welcoming passengers to Abu Dhabi International Airport’s new home.”
FIRST FLIGHT FROM NEW TERMINAL
As you would expect, Etihad had the honour of operating the first commercial service from Terminal A, courtesy of flight EY224 to New Delhi on October 31. The flight, operated by A350-1000 with 359 passengers, was marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Gate C27.
Speaking at the ceremony, Etihad CEO, Antonoaldo Neves, enthused: “This is a pivotal and exciting moment in Etihad’s history. As we begin to celebrate our 20th anniversary in November, we are ready for the next growth chapter in our new home.
“Our congratulations go to the Abu Dhabi leadership for their vision in creating what is one of the world’s most spectacular airports. The terminal is a stunning piece of architecture that echoes the local landscape and warmly welcomes our guests and elevates their travel experience.
“As we begin our transition to our new home, we look forward to welcoming even more passengers as we continue to grow and expand our fleet and network.”
AUH’s 28 airlines began the three-phased migration to Terminal A on November 1, led by Wizz Air Abu Dhabi and 15 other international airlines (Aeroflot, airblue, Air India, Air India Express, Badr Airlines, Biman, Cham Wings, IndiGo, Pakistan International Airlines, Pegasus, Pobeda, Smartwings, SunExpress, Syrian Air and Vistara).
Phase 2 of the transiton to the new showpiece terminal took place on November 9 when Etihad launched 16 flights from Terminal A, before the switch was completed on November 14 when Abu Dhabi’s national flag carrier moved its remaining services to the complex along with all operations by Air Arabia, Air France, Egyptair, Gulf Air, Kam Air, Middle East Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Saudia, SriLankan Airlines and Turkish Airlines.
Between them the airlines serve a total of 117 destinations across the globe from Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi Airports believes that Terminal A is a shopper’s paradise with 163 retail and F&B outlets over a vast area that offer passengers a wide variety of shopping and dining opportunities to explore.
It states: “From Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Ferragamo, to the world’s first Muji airport store, Terminal A is a shopping destination designed to amplify a passenger’s travel experience.
“When it comes to food and beverage, there is something to accommodate all palates. Jones The Grocer, Taste of India, Starbucks and the Camden Food Co are just a few of the exciting brands calling Terminal A their new home. Also, catering to little palates, young travellers can embark on a culinary adventure amidst their favourite McDonalds or TGI Fridays restaurant as they enjoy its playful décor.
“Additionally, Todd English opens his first airport restaurant providing diners with a wide selection of cuisines from around the world. For relaxation and rejuvenating prior to flying, there are two health and beauty spas along with a high quality 138-bedroom hotel plus a modern open-air lounge offering renowned Arabic hospitality.”
Abu Dhabi Airports says that Terminal A will prioritise the passenger experience, facilitating a streamlined service from kerb-to-gate and, as part of this ambition, states that it is the first in the world to include all nine biometric airport touchpoints (see diagram).
In the first phase, it says that this will see biometric solutions installed in key areas, such as self-service bag drops, immigration eGates and boarding gates. When fully operational, it will use facial recognition technology to screen passengers and minimise wait times.
Advanced technology is also said to be have been incorporated into one of the world’s most advanced baggage handling systems – it is capable of processing up to 19,200 bags per hour – as well as self-service kiosks and streamlined security checkpoints.
Sorlini said: “Terminal A underscores our dedication to providing our international passengers and partners with a premium airport experience.
“The terminal exemplifies our commitment to excellence and offering exceptional services that meet the evolving priorities of today’s travellers.
“Through leveraging the latest technologies, Abu Dhabi’s reimagined airport experience will offer a seamless passenger journey, fostering connectivity, interactions, business, trade and tourism, all of which are essential elements in strengthening Abu Dhabi’s position on the world stage.”
When a building wins a design award before it has even been completed, let alone opened, it is usually impressive, and the Kohn Pederson Fox (KPF) designed Terminal A is no exception. Its four themed piers are said to have been inspired by Abu Dhabi’s desert, sea, city and oasis natural landscapes.
According to the airport operator, the distinctive X-shaped design of the terminal was chosen as it will help maximise operational efficiency and improve passenger flows.
The airport notes that Terminal A’s design “blends modern, lightweight aesthetics with functional brilliance”, explaining that the building’s glass exterior maximises natural light while creating “a monumental civic space” inside the terminal.
The size of the monumental space has actually allowed it to include one of the largest indoor public art features in the Middle East, the 22 metre tall and 17 metre wide Sana Al Nour sculpture.
In line with the UAE’s sustainability aspirations and targets, Terminal A features energy-efficient lighting, advanced Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, and has incorporated sustainable materials in its construction.
It is expected to drastically reduce AUH’s annual water consumption, with some experts predicting that the figure will drop by 45%.
And as a major step towards realising Abu Dhabi Airports’ commitment to limiting its operational carbon footprint, a fully integrated solar photovoltaic system has been installed on the roof of Terminal A’s car park, which currently powers a three-megawatt (MW) plant that is predicted to save nearly 5,300 tons of CO2 annually.
His Excellency, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Airports, said: “As Abu Dhabi’s new gateway to the world, Terminal A is an embodiment of Abu Dhabi Airports’ commitment to support the emirate’s sustainable economic development.
“The opening of the facility, which is on par with the largest and grandest on our planet, turns over a new page in Abu
“The opening of the facility, which is on par with the largest and grandest on our planet, turns over a new page in Abu Dhabi’s 55-year aviation history. A beacon of modernity and sophistication, it will be a pivotal driver for our emirate’s growth by spurring tourism and trade.”
Newly released traffic figures for Q3 2023 show that a total of 5.9 million passengers passed through Abu Dhabi International Airport between July and September – 29% more than in the corresponding quarter a year ago.
During the period, AUH also experienced a near 22% increase in aircraft movements and handled 144,000 tonnes of cargo, roughly the same as in Q3 2022.
Abu Dhabi’s connectivity also expanded significantly, with 119 destinations served from AUH by 24 airlines. The busiest destinations served in Q3 2023 included London (238,196 passengers), Mumbai (228,189 passengers), Kochi (191,883 passengers), Cairo (172,570 passengers) and Doha (168,417 passengers).
“We are happy to report passenger figures that continue to show double-digit growth for both passengers and movements,” enthused Sorlini.
“We are attracting major international airlines to Abu Dhabi, with Air France and SunExpress scheduled to start this IATA Winter season, and we further welcome British Airways’ recent announcement to return to Abu Dhabi in April 2024. Terminal A brings a host of new capabilities and facilities, and will be key to airline and, consequently, passenger growth.”
ABU DHABI’S AIRPORT SYSTEM
In addition to AUH, Abu Dhabi Airports is responsible for operating Al Ain, Al Bateen Executive, Delma and Sir Bani Yas airports in the emirate.
A total of 15.9 million passengers used Abu Dhabi’s five airports in 2022, the bulk of the total, of course, using Abu Dhabi International Airport as the emirates’ other gateways primarily serve local or specialised markets.
Al Ain International Airport, for example, serves the northwest border city of Al Ain and its growing industrial activities, which now include being home to the UAE’s first aerospace cluster at Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park.
Al Bateen Executive Airport was the first dedicated business aviation and private jet airport to be established in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, while Delma and Sir Bani Yas airports play a vital role in the development of their respective communities, the latter primarily catering to tourists visiting the UAE’s largest “natural island”.
WHAT NEXT FOR ABU DHABI?
Almost certainly traffic growth and more new routes as AUH continues its recovery from the global pandemic, however, like many other airports in today’s unpredictable world, it is reluctant to make any detailed forecasts.
However, one thing we can say for sure is that Abu Dhabi International Airport will be renamed Zayed International Airport on February 9, 2024, coinciding with an official opening ceremony for Terminal A.
The name change was recently annouced by the Abu Dhabi government in honour of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was the founding president of the UAE.
The future is bright at Abu Dhabi International Airport, and now it finally has the terminal that can help catapult it to the next level in terms of its facilities and what it can achieve.