Why not an airport in Makkah?
By Rizwan Khatik - Thu Jul 07, 5:16 am
THE city of Makkah is the center of attraction for Muslims from all over the world. Indeed, Makkah is the heart of Islam.
Pilgrims arrive from all parts of the globe to visit the Grand Mosque. The most precious human treasures are in Makkah and its surroundings since the times of the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). The Saudi government is spending billions of riyals to upgrade infrastructure facilities in the holy city.
Everyone knows that Makkah, despite its mountainous terrain, is surrounded by plains in all directions but one. The distance between the Hijaz Mountains and the Red Sea is more than 60 kilometers, with Makkah located in the middle. Thus, the topography of the area would not prevent building an airport in the city. Why, then, do the authorities dismiss the idea?
The Jeddah airport is nearly 100 kilometers away from the center of Makkah. In normal traffic, passengers coming from Makkah need one and a half hours to reach the airport. This is in addition to the cost of renting a car, which doubles during peak seasons.
During the January floods, travelers from Jeddah could not reach Makkah and vice versa as was the case during November 2009 floods.
Some parts of the highway that connects Jeddah airport with Makkah were submerged in floodwaters. All these facts make the building of an airport in Makkah crucial.
The population of Makkah currently exceeds 1.6 million. The number of Umrah visitors is expected to reach four million this year. In addition, Makkah receives three million pilgrims for Haj annually. These numbers are expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.
In comparison, Dubai’s population is around 2 million, Sharjah has around 900,000 inhabitants and Ajman 370,000. Dubai and Sharjah have international airports of high standards, and Ajman’s international airport is under construction — three international airports within a distant of 40 kilometers. Expansion of Dubai’s Maktoum bin Rashid Airport will be completed in two years raising its capacity to 12 million tons of cargo in addition to five million passengers in Jabal Ali, 30 kilometers away from Dubai. Thus, there are four international airports in the United Arab Emirates within the same distance as between Makkah and Jeddah serving half the combined population of the two Saudi cities, which exceeds 5.2 million people.
The aforementioned reasons strengthen the demand for an airport in the holy city.
An official in the General Authority of Civil Aviation has stated that the reason for not building an airport in Makkah is the city’s heavy density of population.
This argument stands only if we were to build the airport inside the city. Amazingly, the official was speaking from King Abdulaziz International Airport, which is located in the middle of Jeddah. Why don’t we take the airports of New York, Singapore and Hong Kong as examples?
The mechanism of identifying locations for airports in the Kingdom caused major problems by ignoring infrastructure requirements of cities and the need to extend utility services to neighboring communities.
For instance, Riyadh airport is located north of the city, but it could have served the city better if it were built in the south, because of the huge population in the southeast of Riyadh, especially Al-Kharj. The Dammam airport had bigger fund allocations. Regrettably, its location is far away from everything.
King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah represents a good example of poor planning. I wonder why the airport is located in the north. If it were built in the middle between Jeddah and Makkah, it could have served both cities.
Jeddah is expanding toward north and it has crossed the location of the airport. This has necessitated the need to build another airport in the south, given the fact that the population of Jeddah is likely to reach five million people in eight years from now.