Air travel is booming around the globe and by 2037 more than 8 billion people will take to the sky, according to Iata (the International Air Transport Association). The organization forecasts the global airline industry net profit to be $35.5 billion in 2019, slightly higher than the $32.3 billion expected net profit in 2018. Passenger numbers are expected to reach 4.59 billion (up from 4.34 billion in 2018). Aviation demand is forecast to be particularly strong due to the rising affluence of the middle classes in emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa. This exponential growth represents great opportunities for airport operators, airlines and aircraft manufactures, requiring new routes, more planes and new and bigger airports. Whether they are brand new airports or expanded terminals, innovation and new technologies, particularly biometrics, will play a big role in allowing both people and goods to move smoothly through airports and will be a common feature of the new hubs of the future.


This year alone will witness the opening of four new hubs. Van Don International, in northern Vietnam’s Quang Ninh Province, 50km away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay, has just started operations. The airport plans to handle up to 2.5 million passengers annually and initially up to four aircraft simultaneously, increasing to seven by 2030. Its 3,600m runway can also handle wide bodies up to the size of Boeing 747s, 777s, and 787s.


China is set to overtake the United States as the world's biggest air travel market by 2022 and in September Beijing Daxing, the Chinese capital’s second international airport, will open its doors, while the existing Capital International Airport, already the world's second busiest airport behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, has reached its maximum capacity. The new airport, designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid, boasts four runways and plans to accommodate initially 72 million passengers and two million tons of cargo annually by 2025.


Closer to Europe, Israel is opening its second international airport near Eilat to provide a gateway into southern Jordan and the Sinai in Egypt, hoping to attract more tourists to its Red Sea resort.

Competition between airlines and hubs is particularly fierce in the Middle East, home to the ME3 or Middle East Big 3 (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways). In the Gulf region the development of transport infrastructure and connectivity has attracted significant investment in the last few years and airports have been essential tools to drive economic and tourism traffic growth.


Dubai International (DXB) has just welcomed its billionth passenger and has retained its position as the world’s busiest airport in the world for international travels ahead of London Heathrow.

The existing airport will be linked to the new Al Maktoum International airport, located in the area of Jebel Ali port, 35 km south of Dubai. The airport started with cargo operations only and opened to passenger flights in 2011. Once completed, it plans to serve 225 million passengers per year. The $45bn investment will be made over the next 17 years, and is considered necessary to meet forecast passenger demand, since Dubai International is now approaching maximum capacity and facing space constraints.


While the UAE is the number one investor in the region in terms of aviation projects, Saudi Arabia follows with $26.4 billion of planned projects, including phase 2 and 3 of the $20 billion Riyadh airport development increasing capacity to 80 million passengers by 2035.

In the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the Midfield International Airport has encountered numerous delays and might open at the end of this year. It is designed to expand capacity to 45 million passengers per year, even though the loss of some of Etihad’s international operations has taken its toll on Abu Dhabi’s passenger and cargo traffic.


In Qatar, Hamad International Airport, which opened in 2014, served a total of 34.5mn passengers and handled 2,163,544 tons of cargo in 2018, up 8.4% on the previous year. The terminal launched its phase two expansion plan last year as the country prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.


In Turkey, Istanbul new airport, which had a soft opening last October and sits on the European side of the city, will soon replace the existing and aging Ataturk airport. Taking advantage of its strategic position between Europe and Asia, the ambitious new terminal is bound to intensify competition among carriers and hubs in Europe, West Asia and the Middle East. Istanbul's new mega airport (ISL) is expected to launch "full passenger operations" in March 3 this year, according to operator İGA. Some analysts believe the full opening might still be delayed, while cargo operations might remain at the old airport for longer. The new hub, with its six runways and four terminals, will have an initial planned capacity of 90 million passengers a year and accommodate 3,500 takeoffs and landings per day, but it is also expected to turn the country into a major logistic hub for air freight, according to Turkish Transportation Minister Ahmet Arslan. In 2017 Istanbul was among the top 20 International Freight Airports in the world, but the old terminal was struggling to keep up with the country’s cargo double digit growth due to lack of capacity. The new hub has designated 1.4 million square meters for cargo operations, including aircraft parking areas. After completion, it will have a capacity of 5.5 million tons of freight per year and it is the first air cargo terminal boasting an Artificial Intelligence operational process with support of pallet container handling system and automated storage and retrieval system systems.


Safe, efficient and smooth operations are going to be an essential feature of any future airport, but looking further, the atmosphere, the activities on offer in the terminal and the capacity to reflect the destination are also going to play an important role in attracting passengers and customers.