When Will Abu Dhabi Airport’s Unnecessary New Terminal Open?

Filed Under: Etihad

It has been a few years since I’ve written about this terminal, so I figure it’s time for an update…

Abu Dhabi Airport’s midfield terminal basics

Many years ago, construction started on a new midfield terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The new terminal was supposed to increase the airport’s capacity by up to 45 million passengers per year, more than doubling the existing capacity. The terminal is a total of 742,000 square meters.

Back in 2017, the plan was for the new terminal to open that same year. However, at some point during the year there was a sudden delay of two years, meaning the terminal was then supposed to open in 2019. They even ran trials on the terminal back in 2019 with volunteers, making it seem like the terminal would be opening soon.

As of early 2020, the official plan was for the terminal to open later this year. Now that we’re getting into the later part of 2020, what’s the plan for the new terminal opening?

When is Abu Dhabi’s new terminal opening?

Last month, the SVP of Commercial at Abu Dhabi Airport left his position. At the time he was asked about the latest on the status of the midfield terminal. His response was that he doesn’t envision the terminal opening until mid to late 2021. As he explained in an interview:

“The whole project has now sadly ground to a halt due to Covid-19. We lost a year within year. When I returned to ADAC in 2018 my job was to renegotiate all the contracts, because with Etihad Airways downsizing in 2015/2016 and passenger numbers consequentially plummeting, most of the contracts were unsustainable for Midfield.

That was my job and I’ve done that. But obviously – due to the significant impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and another unfortunate delay to the opening – it’s all going to have to happen again. I couldn’t face another round of renegotiating contracts.”

It sounds like it will be at least another year until Abu Dhabi’s new midfield terminal opens, and even that seems optimistic at this point.

Could the project be abandoned altogether?

There’s no need for Abu Dhabi’s midfield terminal anymore, plain and simple. At least that’s the case in terms of capacity.

Construction on the terminal started at a time where Etihad was trying to become a huge global player, and go head-to-head against Emirates. That strategy failed, as the airline lost billions of dollars, decided to restructure, and now intends to become a smaller, more boutique airline.

Etihad is looking to shrink, rather than expand

All of that was the case before this pandemic even started. Now with this pandemic, the situation is even more dire, and IATA predicts demand won’t recover until 2024.

Realistically speaking, if the new terminal were to open anytime in the next few years, it would be solely in order to upgrade the passenger experience, and not because there’s any other reason for it. And I have a hard time imagining that will happen.

Then there’s Dubai World Central Airport

Dubai World Central Airport has been open since 2013, and was supposed to become one of the biggest airports in the world, handling up to 230 million passengers per year. However:

  • Expansion on the airport has been frozen
  • Emirates was supposed to move operations to Dubai World Central at some point, but that’s not in the cards for now
  • Since Dubai World Central is between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there has long been talk that we could eventually see Emirates and Etihad merge, and co-locate there

I’d note that the concept of an Emirates and Etihad merger and relocation to Dubai World Central has been a topic for many years. The politics involved are complicated and it’s a reason we might not see this, even if it’s otherwise rational.

An Emirates & Etihad merger is rational, but unlikely

Bottom line

Abu Dhabi Airport’s new midfield terminal was supposed to open back in 2017, but the opening has been delayed several times. The terminal is almost finished (and has been almost finished for over a year), but that doesn’t mean the terminal will be opening.

There’s simply no justification to open this if Etihad isn’t going to expand, and that’s not even taking into account the impact of coronavirus.

While a mid to late 2021 opening is envisioned at this point, that still seems highly unlikely. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if this terminal doesn’t open in the next five years, and wouldn’t even be surprised if the project is abandoned, despite how far along it is.

What are your predictions for Abu Dhabi’s midfield terminal?

  1. Nothing gets abandoned in Abu Dhabi. As a frequent traveller between 2015 and 2018, averaging 2 flights a month (sometimes 3) I saw first hand that Terminal 1 and 3 were stretched. Sure, wasn’t busy all the time, but it was much busier than before.

    Covid-19 was unexpected, but Air Arabia Abu Dhabi and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will bring robust business into the city.

    I’m confident about the future of Abu Dhabi, but let’s see how things go.

  2. Come on Ben, the IATA predictions of recovery for things to return to “normal” are based on hitting all time record numbers again. You jog. If you stopped for a while would you only consider equaling your best time – ever – to consider yourself back to normal? IATA is putting out severely skewed numbers; please don’t endorse those intentional misstatements by repeatedly publishing them.

  3. I heard a rumour, part of the reason for the delay, was that parts of the terminal building were not stable.

  4. Maybe it will be one of those things where it’s totally unnecessary now, but in 20+ years they’ll look like geniuses planning ahead…?

  5. They should turn it into a mall with shops and restaurants and hotels like The Jewel in Singapore or Gateway @ KLIA2. That way they’d still recoup their investment but not have a sad barely used passenger terminal.

  6. Meanwhile in US we cannot even get new airport despite over capacity and poor designs and layout.
    Asia is the future.

  7. I’d like to think we will see the terminal open when global demand is back, whenever that may be! I regularly flew on EY 320s in 2019 and every single time they were parked up on the tarmac and it was a bus to and from the plane so I don’t think that would be the aspiration for the customer experience in the future. Recognise the CV19 impact but add in the two new airlines mentioned and I do see the need for it to open.

  8. To be frank, I have high hopes on Abu Dhabi Midfield Airport, since you’ve got three main carriers coming up namely, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia Abu Dhabi and WizzAir Abu Dhabi! You now have international and premium passengers flying on EY and budget travellers on low-cost carriers. So, while, AUH has a future, DWC doesn’t. Dubai World Central was supposed to be completed by 2030 and was supposed to have six runways. EK had high hopes but unfortunately, with this pandemic, passenger travel has plummeted and by the time, travel recovers, we could see more people opting for Point-To-Point travel rather than Hub-and-Spoke system. It’s sad, I flew through Dubai World Central when I was flying with FlyDubai from Kuwait to Muscat, and the terminal honestly looked somewhat like Walmart. It was supposed to be the future of DXB and EK. Hope both of these airports make it successfully.

  9. Nothing is abandoned here in Abu Dhabi, I believe the airport will be completed, and we fly to Nigeria ✈️and back … UAE Amazing place to visit.

  10. @bruh – I don’t really get why you believe Midfield will have a shot but DWC won’t. Aren’t the unfavorable conditions you listed for DWC also applied to AUH? Having three airlines doesn’t necessarily mean it will generate more traffic than one, and I also don’t see how AUH is more point-to-point than DWC or DXB.

  11. @bruh

    You took the words right out of my mouth. DWC has pretensions to being the largest airport in the world, but the interior space doesn’t look anywhere near as appealing as it could have been. Money is no object for mega-projects in Dubai, so I assume the utilitarian aesthetic was a deliberate choice. The only real question for me is “why?”

  12. @Christian – Not sure the running analogy works best here, as nobody expects their running time to improve perpetually; the human body has limits and marginal gains will of course tail off as you approach those limits. Travel, on the other hand, has much room to improve especially given that global populations continue to grow.

    Put another way, before the pandemic, air travel was growing pretty steadily year-over-year and was projected to continue to continue growing. As a result, 2019 was not going to be a “record high” for long, so even if we get back to 2019 numbers in 2024, this will be below what pre-pandemic projections were for 2024. This is of course relevant because airport construction and airline planning is long-term, based on projections of future travel, and hinge often times on projections of air travel continuing to grow.

    So really, what I’m trying to say is these projects are not based on air travel getting “back to normal” they are based on projected future travel numbers that are higher than “normal” and in fact higher than record highs from 2019.

  13. Re:
    “Jkjkjk says:
    August 25, 2020 at 9:49 pm
    Meanwhile in US we cannot even get new airport despite over capacity and poor designs and layout.
    Asia is the future.”

    First of all jkjkjk, Abu Dhabi isn’t in Asia. Secondly, it’s a lot easier to build new airports, and anything else, when you’re only paying indentured servant “wages” of $5.00 a day to poor Bangladeshi’s, used as your construction labor. ‍♂️

  14. @Jon-the United Nations Statistics Division officially categorises UAE as part of Western Asia. Africa starts at Egypt

  15. @Jon

    Why did you waste your time writing?

    Abu Dhabi, whilst commonly referred to as being in the Middle East, is also in Asia. Seeing as the Middle East in in Asia!

    I can see why a delinquent might think Japan is Asia and the Middle East is not Asia, or even try to say that India isn’t. They need to go to a geography class not spew nonsense on public forums.

    Oh and it’s equally “easy” to build airports with expensive labour. Labour cost is a negligible issue for governments, because that expenditure creates jobs, which is a net gain for the economy. It’s more to do with being able to afford the raw materials and to a lesser extent priorities. Infrastructure in Asia is generally built to the concept of, if we build more and better, things will operate more smoothly.
    In the UK the government concept relies on the theory that the more we build the more people will use. IE If we build another airport, people will take more flights, if we build another road, people will drive more. This is considered bad because they feel it increases pollution etc. I think this ideology is flawed. More people don’t fly to Changi than London.
    Mainland Europe’s concept is along the lines of, we don’t have enough space, and we have bigger issues,
    The US, I can’t say with certainty, but they invested a lot into infrastructure in a short space of time, and are unable to maintain such a large network. Maintaining comes before building new.

  16. @Bob – IATA averaging out the prior 5-10 years of passenger numbers would be more akin to a real normal. Over extended time periods the stock market will go up. Does hitting a new all time high at one point make it the new normal?

  17. Some of the comments have mysteriously similar syntax and tone. “Nothing gets abandoned in Abu Dhabi” and high hopes for the 3 airlines bringing in lots of visitors, though Abu Dhabi currently is not allowing quite a few of its residents to return, let alone tourists.

    Some things do get abandoned in Abu Dhabi, which leads me to wonder who these posters are and the reason behind their optimism on the opening of 2 budget airlines from a place that has always been less open than Dubai to visitors

  18. The SVP Commercial ( Gavin) was terminated (fired) due to fraud and poor performance and hence making such statements.

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