The Middle East’s airline industry is growing at an unbelievable pace; the airlines in The Gulf States are among the fastest growing airlines in the world and the largest in the world. The UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pouring money into their airlines building global presences, Bahrain’s national airline while in significant distress is being overhauled and building its brand, Oman’s airline remains small but is growing … leaving just Kuwait’s flagging Kuwait Airways behind.
Kuwait has struggled to privatize its airline; faces labour issues, an aging fleet, poor in flight services and a passenger product that is at least a decade behind. Kuwait’s second airline, Jazeera Airways is growing with its fleet of seven Airbus A320s, serving the region from Egypt to India, but it is massively outsized by even the smallest regional competitors … which leads to Kuwait beginning to launch its US$6,000,000,000 airport blunder.
Kuwait International Airport was expand in 2001 and again in 2008 to accommodate 7,000,000 passengers annually, despite the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s research indicating the airport should be planned for an estimated 9,000,000 to 10,000,000 passengers at the time of the renovations, due to the airport moving 6,910,309 passengers in 2007 and 7,226,345 in 2008.
Now as the airport has seen traffic of 8,466,737 passengers in 2011, and expects to move an estimated 8,558,304 passengers in 2012, Kuwait’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation has put forth a plan to spend US$6,000,000,000 to renovate the airport again to handle 13,000,000 passengers by 2016, then further expand to handle 25,000,000 passengers by 2025.
Kuwait’s plans for expanding Kuwait International Airport are flawed on two fronts, neither of which is minor. As the airport is expanded for a growing number of passengers, the airport is being incrementally expanded in a shortsighted manner. Each time a renovation occurs, the capacity is exceeded shortly after construction is completed, or in the last renovation even before the expansion was completed. If the Kuwaiti government intends to push the airport’s capacity to 25,000,000 passengers by 2025, maybe it should consider pushing its 13,000,000 passengers capacity by 2016 to 20,000,000 by 2018 … which is entirely within the grasp of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
The second front the Kuwaiti Government is making a significantly flawed calculation on … the airlines. In order for Kuwait International Airlines to reach its expected capacity it needs flights. The increased passenger capacity at the airport over the past two years came in part from the now defunct Wataniya Airways, a based at the airport’s Sheikh Saad Terminal. Wataniya Airways, like Jazeera Airways flew a fleet of seven Airbus A320s, with a relatively similar route map, with the exception of limited destinations in Europe rather than India. Witth the loss of Wataniya Airways the airport’s growth expectations will decrease, as its capacity cannot be absorbed by Kuwait Airways or Jazeera Airways.
Kuwait is a tiny wealthy nation, much like a number of its neighbours. It wants to be a major player in the travel industry and its ambitious four year US$111,000,000,000 development plan is a step in the right direction focusing an expanding the airport, building railroad links, constructing a subway, improving roads, expanding its port, as well as improving its hospitals and power infrastructure for the roughly 3.7-million people who live in the country … but before it expands the rail links to the airport, road links from the airport to the port and expands the airport itself it needs to focus on its airlines.
Without a revitalized Kuwait Airways, that is competitive in the region, that is either successfully privatized or turned back over to the government, the expansion of the airport will be fruitless. Kuwait’s neighbours are all advancing their airline and airport industry focusing on both passengers and cargo and Kuwait is in danger of being left behind throwing money into a hole.