Egypt Pulse

Does Cairo need third airport?

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Article Summary
The Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that it will soon open an international airport in the new administrative capital east of Cairo, a move that was widely criticized.

CAIRO — The Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation announced June 13 it is ready to inaugurate the Capital International Airport in the new administrative capital in eastern Cairo in the next few weeks.

On June 13, EgyptAir Duty Free announced that it has finished equipping its branches in the new airport and is ready for the opening, but it did not give an exact date.

Operations to build the airport began in October 2015, and two companies took part in the implementation — Hassan Allam Holding and El-Mokawloon El-Arab — under the supervision of the Armed Forces’ Engineering Authority, Shorouk newspaper reported. But the cost of the project has not been revealed.

The airport is set to serve the residents of eastern Cairo and the cities of al-Shurouq, Badr and Heliopolis, and the cities and governorates of the Suez Canal. Local media outlets report that the new airport will boost travel and tourism.

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According to the Egyptian El Watan newspaper that is close to the government, the new airport comprises of a large passenger building, arrival and departure halls, a VIP lounge, area for customs and passport control and another space for restaurants and duty-free shops. It can accommodate more than 300 travelers per hour.

The airport also comprises of a main tarmac that is 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) long and 6 meters (19.5 feet) wide, a waiting space for airplanes that fits more than eight large planes and a parking lot that fits more than 500 cars and 20 passenger buses, as well as a large mosque with a surface area of 850 square meters (0.2 acres).

The chairman of the Egyptian Holding Company for Airports and Air Navigation, Ahmed Maher Jneinah, said that the new airport will be equipped with the latest operations and technology systems and will include state-of-the-art surveillance cameras and other safety and surveillance systems, including X-ray baggage scanners, a new fire alarm system and an Instrument Landing System.

Jneinah told Al-Monitor, “The new airport includes 45 buildings and a 50-meter-high (164-feet) air traffic control tower.” He noted that the positions for customs, security and the quarantine station had been filled already. He noted that the operational trial period began June 13 to pave the way for the airport's opening in the next few days. Jneineh, however, did not want to reveal an exact date 

He added that this is the second airport that becomes operational during the term of Minister of Civil Aviation Air Marshal Younes al-Masri. The first was the Sphinx International Airport, in Giza to the west of Cairo, which was officially inaugurated by Masri on Jan. 25.

The main goal behind establishing the airport in Giza was to reduce congestion at Cairo International Airport in the eastern part of Cairo. For 12 months, work was ongoing to implement the project, at a cost of 300 million Egyptian pounds ($18 million).

The opening of the Capital International Airport has been repeatedly postponed. On Jan. 26, Masri said that the airport in the new administrative capital would open in April, and then he announced that it would open in May. And most recently, on June 13, the Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that the opening will take place in the next few days.

Abdel-Khalek Farouq, economic expert and head of the Nile Center for Economic and Strategic Studies, said that the Sphinx International Airport cost $17 million, which is a huge investment in terms of what the airport will generate in profits. So far, there have been no official statistics on the returns the airport has made since its opening.

He wondered whether there is a real need for an airport in the new administrative capital, especially since the Sphinx International Airport is used for domestic flights only.

Farouq told Al-Monitor that the Capital International Airport will mainly serve the citizens of eastern Cairo for internal tourism. It's unlikely that citizens will use the airport in great numbers since it is expensive to fly and other means of transportation are available by land and sea.

The per capita income in Egypt is low, and it is unlikely Egyptians can afford to fly across governorates. Egyptians tend to travel by taxi or train, or they use feluccas (riverboats) on the Nile. A plane ticket from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh, for instance, costs between 800-1,100 Egyptian pounds ($48-$66), while it costs 120-150 pounds ($7-$9) by bus.

On the repeated postponement of the airport’s opening, Farouq said it was due to the lack of feasability studies on the project and its operation.

Ammar Ali Hassan, professor of political science at the University of Cairo, said that building an airport in the new administrative capital, as well as other huge projects, are being exploited by the current ruling class as a cover for its practices and economic policies by showing off its projects and achievements.

Hassan told Al-Monitor that blowing national projects and achievements out of proportion usually constitutes an attempt from those in power to legitimize its political presence further. Massive projects are usually coupled with propaganda on local media, but they are hasty and not well-studied.

He added that projects like the new administrative capital, the New Suez Canal and the Sphinx International Airport were mainly launched to garner public support to hide the weak economic structure of the state. He underlined that most projects are funded by taxpayers’ money and loans.

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Found in: Tourism

Ahmed Youness is an Egyptian writer and journalist covering foreign and regional affairs. He writes for a variety of regional media outlets, including Al-Hayat, Aawsat and Raseef22. 

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