Islamabad airport set to open despite security concerns

Published April 9, 2018
AN aerial view of the new Islamabad International Airport.—White Star
AN aerial view of the new Islamabad International Airport.—White Star

RAWALPINDI: After years of delays and controversies, Pakistan’s first greenfield airport will be operational for international and domestic flights from April 20.

The Y-shaped airport is located 20 kilometres from Zero Point Islamabad and over 25 kilometres from Saddar, Rawalpindi. It has reportedly been built according to international standards to cement its place as the country’s premier airport.

A greenfield construction project is one that is not constrained by existing infrastructure. The analogy refers to using unused land for building a project from scratch.

Arrangements for potable water, food supply yet to be made

Almost all international and domestic flights will be handled by the new airport, called the Islamabad International Airport (IIA). It will also serve as the primary base of the national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which recently got its own rebranding with the depiction of the Markhor on its fleet.

The IIA is set to be the largest airport in the country and is designed to facilitate 15 million passengers annually in the first phase. The capacity is scheduled to increase to 25 million annual passengers after its expansion.

The plan to construct a new airport in Islamabad had been conceived just under forty years ago in 1980. There was an increasing number of passengers going through the airport and the old Islamabad airport — later renamed the Benazir Bhutto International Airport — was not intended to cater to so much traffic. The site for the construction of the airport had also been picked near Attock.

Besides a four-level terminal building, two runways, taxiways, apron and two parking bays for wide-body aircraft A-380 have been built. There will also be a cargo terminal, fuel farm, air traffic control complex as well as a fully-functional state-of-the-art firefighting station and modern rescue facilities.

The new airport will have 15 air-conditioned jetways or passenger boarding bridges, 13 remote bays for larger aircraft and 7 remote bays for ATR and other smaller planes, in addition to four cargo bays. Of the 15 jetways – two have been specified for the wide-body aircraft A380. The Benazir Bhutto International Airport had no boarding bridges and suffered from a chronically inadequate immigration desk. The small number of immigration officers could not handle the influx of thousands of passengers flying in every day.

The new airport will have five conveyer belts to assist passengers in claiming their luggage and personal belongings after they exit their planes. All 15 bays will have separate lounges to make it easier for travellers to navigate to the correct waiting areas.

Breakdown of the terminal building

At level 1 – there are the international and domestic passengers’ arrival area and collection bays for baggage. Airline offices and the engineering department will also be housed on the first level.

At level II – there are the domestic arrivals and departure lounges, boarding bridges, visitors’ gallery, car parking, and Immigration counters for international passengers.

At level III – there are international and domestic check-ins – baggage drop after check-in security scanning, international immigration departure and other airlines offices.

At level IV – there are state lounges and commercially important persons (CIP) lounges, in addition, a crew briefing hall.

There will be as many as 28 escalators, six service lifts. 24 elevators for passengers have been installed in the terminal building in addition to 4 inclined travellators (moving walkways) and 10 horizontal. 25 restrooms for passengers have been built in the terminal building, however, there is no facility for transit passengers to deposit their luggage. Instead, transit passengers will have to carry their luggage with them while waiting for their connecting flights. The Benazir Bhutto Airport did not have this facility either.

A huge parking area for 2200 to 2500 vehicles has been constructed, in addition to a 175-staff car parking bay. And two parking areas have been allocated for state lounge guests. There are nine exit and entry gates to the airport.

Other amenities include dedicated charging stations for passengers to fuel up their electronic devices. In addition, there are charging boxes for cell-phones that will be operated by high-tech fingerprint recognition systems for keeping the phones safe while they are being charged.

There will also be a mini-cinema for travellers to relax and watch a movie before embarking on their connecting flights, as well as a food court with a children’s play area.

From Islamabad, the airport is connected to the Kashmir Highway, while people in Rawalpindi will be able to access it via the Grand Trunk Road. There is no dedicated public transport available to the airport; however, government authorities have plans to inaugurate a metro-bus service for passengers soon.

Besides all other facilities, 18 water tube-wells and three water dams have been built for the new airport. However, arrangements for the availability of clean drinking water have yet to be finalised.


More than 500 Airport Security Force personnel will be required to be deployed at the new IIA to ensure safety for all passengers.

Security officials, however, have already expressed concern over the existing situation of funnel areas of the new airport which are close to the Motorway where lights could be a security hazard.

Though more than 85 security towers have been built around the airport to ensure that nobody from outside can enter the area, several of the towers lack basic facilities like toilets/washroom, lighting and restrooms.

“No clean water is available to drink at the security towers, and it’s difficult to keep visual contact from the towers to the airport,” a security official – requesting to remain unnamed — lamented speaking of the lapses in security management.

The security staff camp is located 12 kilometres away from the airport which security officials consider a cause for concern. The airport itself lacks proper rescue and evacuation mechanisms.

There are also no alternate routes for VIPs, which according to security officials would have the potential to create traffic bottlenecks as well as security hazards.

“The Benazir Bhutto International Airport was a smaller airport, which meant that security management was not so complicated. Considering the new airport is significantly larger, the security detail needs to be much more comprehensive. Given the fact that the location of the airport is also in an area where there have been reports of miscreant activities, security arrangements are not water-tight” a security official said.

He said at the new airport, security management systems, CCTV, and public address systems have been installed complimented with all-night patrolling. There are two bomb pit facilities each on the departure and international sections of the airport.

Flight kitchen

Besides the on-site hotel, a flight kitchen, post office facilities and ATMs have yet to be provided to passengers using the new airport. However, the PIA spokesman said that the flight kitchen located at the old Benazir Bhutto International airport, which is more than 30 kilometres away from the new airport will be used for cooking meals, which will be transported in trucks to the new airport.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2018


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