Passengers enter the airport’s international departure lounge. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Passengers enter the airport’s international departure lounge. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

RAWALPINDI: At first glance, visitors to the capital’s first greenfield airport are truck by the futuristic-looking structure and its forest-like landscaping.

The Y shaped Islamabad International Airport (IIA) is located near Fatehjang and Attock, 20 kilometres from Zero Point in Islamabad and 25km from Saddar, Rawalpindi.

The project took nearly 11 years to complete and cost Rs105 billion by the time it was inaugurated, in some haste, a year ago. It is capable of handling 9 million passengers and 50,000 metric tons of cargo every year.

The turnover of passengers at Benazir Bhutto International Airport was around 4.5m. Since it became operational, IIA recorded the arrival of approximately 2.4m between May 2018 and March 2019, and 2.4m have flown out of the airport in the same period.

Traffic congestion and police checks have also affected the number of passengers from Jhelum, Gujrat, Khanrian and other cities, who are choosing to travel from Sialkot airport rather than facing difficulties to travel out of IIA.

Moving through the airport complex, visitors can glimpse natural landscapes, highlands and colourful flora. Its super view corridor has a view of mountains and ponds, while ongoing tree plantations provide greenery and shade from the sun.

The four-level passenger terminal building is spread over 190,370 square metres, and designed to facilitate both passengers and stakeholders. The glass-and-steel building serves as the point of entry and exit. At the top of the building there is the departures concourse hall and facilities such as foreign exchange counters.

A significant portion of land has been earmarked for commercial purposes, such as duty-free stories, a luxury hotel and convention centre, eateries, a business centre and a food court, as well as leisure facilities such as cinemas, a theme park and a golf course.

Flight lounges, prayer areas, duty-free shops and a transit hotel, a transit passengers’ area and parking for 160 vehicles is also available, in addition to parking space for 176 vehicles for functionaries.

There are currently 15 international airlines operating out of IIA for various destinations. The airport is equipped to handle all kinds of aircraft, including the new generation of the Airbus A380. On July 8, last year, the airport was also the destination of a special flight of the Emirates A380, the world’s largest double-decker airplane.

During a tour of the airport, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesperson Farah Hussain pointed out new plantations and indoor plants at the centre of the airport structure modelled on a mini forest.

“Through the glass you can see the landscape, and planes landing, taking off and flying,” she added.

The airport is equipped with 15 passenger boarding bridges – nine international five domestic and one swing gate. There are 13 remote parking bays for aircraft as well – nine international, four domestic, three parking stands in the cargo apron and two parking stands at the state lounge apron.

There is also a state-of-the-art flight information display system in the domestic and international arrivals and departures lounges, 30 immigration counters in the international departures lounge and 40 in the international arrivals lounge, 72 international briefing counters and 32 domestic briefing counters.

Faults

When IIA was made operational last year, there were still many faults left to deal with.

Aviation Secretary Shahrukh Nusrat told Dawn that minor problems have come to light since the new airport has been made operational, but the CAA is working to streamline things and the situation is gradually improving.

The airport’s second runway was closed last month after a ‘dip’ appeared. Repairs are underway, and the authorities hope to complete everything by mid-May.

Mr Nusrat said that the second runway is the parallel taxi track, and engineers are being consulted to make it operational again.

In October last year, a passenger boarding bridge collapsed moments after it was disconnected from a Gulf Airways flight that had begun taxiing. Two people, a bridge operator and a loader, were injured.

Then in December, the CAA constituted an inquiry committee after customs authorities complained that the air freight unit building was developing large cracks that were widening every day. The staff was given an alternate space to work because the condition of the building was to insecure for them to work in.

Airport authorities have also had difficulty operating the baggage handling conveyer system, which has stalled a number of times.

The CAA acknowledged that there was a technical issue with four of the conveyer belts, but two have been fixed and made operational.

Security

IIA is equipped with the latest security-related facilities, including a security management information system, CCTV and an access control system. The security system aims to protect passengers, aircraft, staff and other stakeholders from accidents, malicious harm, crime and other threats.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2019