Ras Al Khaimah International Airport: Nurturing the economic growth of an emirate
The impact of tourism in Ras Al Khaimah should not be underestimated. In April 2017, it was announced that the emirate was anticipating welcoming over a million visitors by the end of 2018. Of course such ambition relies heavily on a strong transportation infrastructure, with Ras Al Khaimah International Airport (RAK Airport) an important stakeholder.
Ras Al Khaimah recorded a rise of 11 per cent in overall visitor numbers in 2016 versus 2015. Visitors from India to the emirate in Q1 2017 grew by 35 per cent, while the number of guest nights taken by Indian tourists grew 49.4 per cent in the same period when compared to Q1 2016. Furthermore, the average length of stay of Indian guests in Q1 2017 has grown by 10.6 per cent.
“Ras Al Khaimah has seen a growing trend from Indian inbound tourism for short leisure stays, MICE and wedding sector. Our aim is to promote unique activities and events with a view to encourage Indian travellers to lengthen their stay in the destination. India, being a significant source market, is expected to be an important contributor to the emirate’s vision to attract one million visitors by the end of 2018. We are optimistic that through focused efforts and participation in various roadshows and trade events, tourism from India will continue to develop in the coming years,” commented Haitham Mattar, CEO, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.
News of an expected increase in passenger footfall over the coming 18 months will come as little surprise to RAK Airport.
In December of last year the organisation was able to reflect upon the most successful year in its history with record passenger numbers, aircraft movements and cargo handled, according to Sheikh Salem bin Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Chairman of Department of Civil Aviation, Ras al-Khaimah.
The airport was set to welcome a record 471,432 passengers this year, an increase of 52 per cent, against 309,591 passengers in 2015. Aircraft movements, including all categories, in the first ten months of 2016 were at 11,364.
The airport set a record in cargo handling in the ten-month period of 2016 by almost doubling to 98 per cent at 3,100 tonnes from 1,600 tonnes for the January-October 2015 period.
“These remarkable increases in passengers, cargo and aircraft movements are due to the vision and support to the aviation industry by His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, increasing operational efficiency and dynamic planning and swift decision making,” Sheikh Salem said.
“The overall growth is also owing to Qatar Airways starting its operations from February 2016 at 4 flights per week, Air India Express starting in March 2016 at 4 flights per week and increased movements from Air Arabia to various destinations,” he added.
2016 was a truly momentous year for RAK as it reached 40th anniversary year.
New charter operations from Germany, Poland, Latvia and Russia kicked off the year and additionally, Air Arabia, for whom RAK International is a growing hub, increased flight frequencies to the 10 destinations that it serviced from the emirate.
RAK International had already made significant progress on the non-aeronautical side during 2015, with new deals being signed for maintenance, repair and overhaul as well as aircraft decommissioning.
In late December of last year, Sheikh Salem said that the year was the airport’s most positive to date, with a host of landmarks passed and records broken.
The airport’s passenger numbers grew 68 per cent over 2015 figures on a like-for-like basis. Cargo tonnage almost doubled with an impressive 98 per cent growth, while aircraft movements increased by 37 per cent.
Sheikh Salem said: “A lot of hard work has been put in over recent years and we have now started to reap some of the rewards. In February, Qatar Airways inaugurated its flights from Doha to Ras Al Khaimah, connecting RAK to long haul routes in Europe, China and beyond. In April, Air India Express gave us an Indian connection that goes some way to satisfying the still under-served Indian sector from RAK.”
“In May Sun MRO started its setup at RAK to establish a narrow body repair and maintenance centre,” he said. “In September we had the inauguration of Egypt Air Cargo flights, the first flag carrier freighter operating to RAK. The beginning of October saw an early start of winter tourism season with 10 charters coming from various parts of Europe, CIS and Russia.”
The latter underlined the close synergy between RAK Airport and RAK Tourism Development Authority, he said.
Mohammed Qazi, the airport’s CEO, also noted that in addition to these key moments Ras Al Khaimah’s national carrier, Air Arabia, increased its daily frequencies on most of the routes it operates from RAK. He attributed the high load factors at the airport to its easy accessibility from the Northern Emirates, which is a sizeable catchment area.
RAK Airport also opened the expansion of the Arrival Terminal, on time, during October. This expansion included the state-of-the-art smart immigration gates that process each passenger in approximately 5 seconds.
Qazi noted: “The key focus is on the timeliness of our operations, as we believe the quicker you can process the passengers the more satisfied both the passengers and airlines are. Besides, less ground time simply means more revenues for the airlines, and we are ranked top amongst the airports for on-time performance for airlines operating at RAK Airport.”
Qazi indicated that an impressive 2016 was a taster of what is to come for RAK International Airport over the next five years:
“We are continuing to invest in infrastructure in order to cater for the future. We hope that the global economy shows improvements next year as there have been a number of uncertainties during 2016,” he said.
Qazi indicated that 2017 was set to be another year of important change and growth: “We are constantly enhancing our service offerings for our passengers and airlines alike,” he said. “We have technological innovations planned for the first quarter that will ease the check-in process and may even take it outside the airport itself. And we will be opening our new seasonal terminal in the early part of 2017 as well,” he concluded.