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Asia-Pacific Airports takes a closer look at plans to enhance the retail offering at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia.

Passenger numbers are rising across the Middle East, and with forecasts predicting that this upward trajectory is set to continue in the long-term, many of the region’s airports are looking to expand their capacity and drive a stronger passenger experience.

While new greenfield airport projects such as Saudi Arabia’s Amaala Red Sea resort and Abu Dhabi’s Midfield Terminal tend to dominate industry headlines with stunning new terminal designs, there is, of course, also a crucial need for many airports to demonstrate vision and commitment to update historic facilities to ensure they can fully address the region’s long-term growth.

Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport (KKIA) is a notable example. Built in 1983 to a design by pioneering airport architects HOK, KKIA’s design utilises four triangular-shaped terminals within one main building, connected to each other by three linking buildings.

Although some degree of growth capacity was strategically built-in by the inclusion of the unused fourth terminal, the continuing growth in traffic has driven a major long-term development programme across the whole airport, requiring a new approach to the optimisation of non-aeronautical revenues across the terminals.

Indeed, a reported $590 million is being invested on enhancing KKIA, which handled a record 26.6 million passengers (+5.5%) in 2018 to cement its status as the second busiest airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Integral to the development of KKIA is a powerful commercial focus, including the appointment of London-based specialists The Design Solution (TDS) to support the commercial planning strategy.

The contract is just part of the long-term national programme to radically update Saudi Arabia’s airports, including raising capacity and enhancing infrastructure at KKIA. Pragma Consulting also form part of the team advising on the commercial aspects of the project.

The development will expand capacities, improve services and dramatically transform the commercial offering, with each terminal featuring a walk-through duty free shop and its own shops, cafés and restaurants.

KKIA’s development of terminals 3 and 4 creates opportunities for adjustment to passenger operations across all the airport’s terminals, including the re-allocation of domestic and international passengers and a stronger commercial planning approach throughout.

The planning includes a new centralised commercial area (post security) between terminals 1 and 2, before passengers depart through either of the two terminals that will then act essentially as piers.

Talking about Riyadh Airports Company’s vision for KKIA, the company’s vice president for commercial, Gelban AlGelban, says: “We are undertaking a number of major transformation projects as part of privatising the aviation sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“As a result, we are seeking opportunities to optimise KKIA’s commercial returns and enhance the passenger experience. Our strategic goal is for King Khalid International Airport to become one of the top 50 airports in the world.”

He adds: “Our work with The Design Solution produced an outstanding design through redefining our commercial layout to serve our passenger’s needs and create a truly unique experience.”

Riyadh Airports Company’s, commercial analytics manager, Abdulaziz Algoufi, notes: “Designing the commercial layout in airports is always challenging since it depends on intense analysis that aims at defining the perfect commercial offer while enhancing the passenger’s journey.

“The new design aims to enable KKIA to increase its commercial offering by 40% and enhance the passenger experience through an additional 25% area allocated for passenger facilities.”

TDS planning director, Graeme Johns, says: “The team has managed to achieve a classic commercial plan for both terminals 3 and 4, creating a central heart in each terminal immediately after the walk-through duty free stores.

“These feature unusually high shopfront zones where the concessionaires can maximise their impact. The potential for T1 and T2 is very exciting with the major new extension being designed specifically with commerce in mind, but also delivering huge operational benefits for departing passengers.

“Investment in airport capacity and facilities in the Middle East remains strong, second only to Asia-Pacific, with significant competition between hubs and a real spirit of determination to develop an industry-leading passenger experience, such as we see at KKIA.”

Aligned with the kingdom’s Vision 2030, KKIA is carrying out a three-phase radical redevelopment affecting almost every area of the airport estate, including infrastructure enhancement, runways, baggage areas, corridors and aircraft parking and a new road linkage network for the airport.


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