Airport late, but worth the wait

Boarding artist's impression of New Doha International Aiport, due to open next year.
Boarding artist's impression of New Doha International Aiport, due to open next year.

Despite the delays, Doha's new international airport promises glitz, glamour and efficiency, writes Clive Dorman.

Imagine your airline has just been voted the world's best - for the second year in a row.

Imagine you not only run a well-regarded airline but you also get to design your major hub airport as an airline operator's dream, instead of just an extravagant palace designed to make the host government look good.

One of the Arab world's most influential business people gets to do that as chief executive of both Qatar Airways and the New Doha International Airport, a $US15.5 billion ($14.7 billion) gateway competing with the Middle East's other major airports in the battle for the hearts and minds of the world's travellers.

Of course, people don't choose a destination because of how good its airport is, but they will actively avoid it if it is not up to scratch. Think Singapore's Changi, which is consistently rated one of the world's best. Think LAX (Los Angeles), which many passengers vow to avoid because of its poor facilities.

As the most powerful man in Qatar - apart from the Emir of the energy-rich desert kingdom - Akbar Al Baker runs no fewer than 11 state-owned businesses including the airline, Doha airport, a hotel, a freight operation and the state liquor import monopoly.

But the construction of the new airport, on 2200 hectares of mostly reclaimed land east of the current facility in the Persian Gulf, has been anything but plain sailing.

Al Baker revealed on November 20 that it was running a year late and would not open until December 2013.

Known as a hard taskmaster and a perfectionist, Al Baker has single-mindedly pursued a vision he believes can't be matched by airport competitors in the Middle East, chiefly Emirates' Dubai and Etihad's Abu Dhabi. The current Doha facility is the only airport in the world with a terminal dedicated exclusively to first-class and business-class passengers.

That idea will be extended at the NDIA, which will initially have the capacity to handle 28 million passengers a year before being extended in a second phase to handle 50 million. Sydney airport handled 35.6 million last year.

Apart from having the world's longest commercial runway at 4850 metres, with a second of 4250 metres, the open-plan facility is a vast shopping centre, with a 25-metre swimming pool, squash courts, spas, restaurants, business facilities and a four-star hotel. The facilities are for transit passengers to fill in the time between flights that converge on Doha in the main early morning wave before travellers are sent on their way to destinations in all six continents.

But it's not just glitz and glamour: according to the Al Baker blueprint, NDIA will have a minimum connecting time of just 30 minutes between flights, requiring precise and reliable technology to quickly distribute baggage and freight between up to 65 aircraft gates.

Clive Dorman flew to Doha as a guest of Qatar Airways.

This story Airport late, but worth the wait first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.