Taif , Apr 10: Taif airport may soon become a key disembarkation point for pilgrims coming in from the neighboring states.
The airport has seen a 250 percent jump in air traffic in 2012, according to Khalid Al-Khaibary, spokesperson and general manager of public relations at General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
The idea behind developing Taif as a major hub for international Haj and Umrah traffic is to ease the burden at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport (KAIA) during the peak seasons.
Taif airport accommodates Air Arabia, Saudia, nasair, Al-Masria, flydubai, Gulf Air, Nesma Airlines, Nile Air and Turkish Airlines. These airlines provide flights to Sharjah, Cairo, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait, Abha, Dammam, Riyadh and Istanbul.
Last June, Air Arabia began operating 66 flights a week from Taif to Sharjah.
Analysts are still speculating how much pilgrim traffic will pass through Taif this year, but aviation authorities are ready for the influx.
Taif airport opened in 1955 as a small domestic facility and remained under the radar until the GACA upgraded it to a regional hub.
GACA authorized a SR 8.8-million renovation of the passenger terminal and lounge, expanding it from 4,400 square meters to 5,600 square meters. The expansion allows the terminal to accommodate up to 600 passengers per hour. Passengers will pass through new customs and passport control areas. Annual passenger traffic will increase from 350,000 to 750,000, according to GACA.
The airport also has two runways with a capacity of 12,254 feet each. Although its capacity has expanded, aviation authorities have yet to establish air routes between Taif and Jeddah. It is also not connected to Madinah.
Al-Khaibary told Arab News that Taif’s airport is becoming the fastest developing airport among the Kingdom’s 23 domestic airports. He said 682,000 passengers used Taif airport in 2012 — 241,000 international and 441,000 domestic.
He noted that Taif received 1,900 international flights and 3,744 domestic flights in 2012. Al-Khaibary also said that since 2011, Taif airport has recorded significant growth in passenger traffic.
“In 2010, there was a total of 4,687 flights, then in 2011, the figure went up to 5,393 and reached 5,644 in 2012,” Al-Khaibary said.
Al-Khaibary also said that 779 international flights operated from Taif for first time in 2011 and carried 96,491 passengers. For 2012, that number skyrocketed 250 percent, with 241,000 international passengers.
“Taif airport has a 7-percent share in the total number of domestic passengers in the Kingdom,” Al-Khaibary said. “National and foreign airlines are operating 41 weekly flights to Egypt, Turkey, UAE and Kuwait.
Al-Khaibary added that GACA is negotiating with the Ministry of Haj to operate Haj charter flights to Taif.
GACA officials say they are encouraging airlines to operate more flights from Taif to other GCC countries to make it a true international hub.
Yet equally important are the efforts underway to establish specific routes from Taif to Makkah once pilgrims land at the airport. One route will lead to Makkah from Taif, Al-Shimaisi and Laith. Private cars and taxis will drop off pilgrims at the parking lot of Al-Shimaisi checkpoint, then pilgrims will take public transportation to the Grand Mosque.
Another route will take pilgrims from Al-Sail valley area in Taif via private car or taxi to Al-Sharaie residential district in Makkah. Pilgrims will then use public transportation to go to the Haram.
Taif airport will ease pilgrim load at KAIA