‘Gate­way to the King­dom’ closes door on 40-year saga

Pilots, staff look back as King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port’s south ter­mi­nal makes his­tory again

Arab News - - News Saudi Arabia - Tareq Al-Thaqafi Jed­dah

King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port’s south­ern ter­mi­nal — a gate­way to the King­dom for al­most 40 years — has closed its doors for the fi­nal time, bring­ing an end to an un­ri­valled chap­ter in Saudi avi­a­tion his­tory.

With a de­sign mod­eled on Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Wash­ing­ton, D.C, the iconic tent-like struc­ture has seen mil­lions of trav­el­ers pass through its high­ceilinged halls since its his­toric open­ing in 1981.

Now the south­ern ter­mi­nal and its ser­vices will be moved to the air­port’s lat­est global des­ti­na­tion, T1, just a few miles away.

While the ter­mi­nal doors will close, mem­o­ries of the air­port and its place in the King­dom’s his­tory re­main.

Saad Al-Shehri, former vice pres­i­dent of safety and se­cu­rity at Saudi Ara­bian Air­lines, said that the air­port’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in April 1981 was a mo­ment of na­tional pride and a “cul­tural shift in avi­a­tion and lo­gis­tics ser­vices in the King­dom.”

King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port was char­ac­ter­ized by its large size and the beauty of its de­sign, he said.

“The air­port was one of the most beau­ti­ful ever de­signed. It was dis­tin­guished by its smooth flow of move­ment,” said Al-Shehri.

“The de­par­ture lounges were sep­a­rate from ar­rivals, and the Saudi Air­lines flight halls were sep­a­rate from those ded­i­cated for for­eign air­lines. Modern and com­fort­able jet bridges were used for pas­sen­gers to board and dis­em­bark. These were used in only three air­ports around the world to my knowl­edge — King Ab­du­laziz Air­port, Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Wash­ing­ton, DC, and Mon­treal-Pierre El­liott Trudeau In­ter­na­tional Air­port.”

Al-Shehri added: “The air­port was also char­ac­ter­ized by its modern build­ings, com­ple­ment­ing op­er­a­tional, tech­ni­cal and sup­port ser­vices, whether re­lated to the Gen­eral Au­thor­ity of Civil Avi­a­tion (GACA) and air­port man­age­ment or what is re­lated to Saudi Air­lines.” He said that for the first time in the King­dom, “modern and spa­cious build­ings were al­lo­cated to air­port man­age­ment and a build­ing for Saudi Air­lines’ op­er­a­tions, which in­cluded pilots’ man­age­ment, air ser­vice man­age­ment, royal flight man­age­ment and more.”

Former pi­lot Capt. Ali Badeeb was on duty when the air­port opened al­most 40 years ago.

“It was one of the most beau­ti­ful mo­ments of my life,” he re­called. “I was full of joy when I moved to the new air­port, which was equipped with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy re­lat­ing to op­er­a­tions, main­te­nance, pas­sen­ger ser­vice and air nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems at the time.” Badeeb said that he has “mixed feel­ings of sad­ness and joy” as he bids farewell to the ter­mi­nal.

“We raised the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of loyal men who ded­i­cated their lives to serve their coun­try, and this build­ing wit­nessed a great leap for­ward in the avi­a­tion sec­tor in the Mid­dle East,” he said.

Former Saudi Ara­bian Air­lines as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Ali Malat said the air­port’s open­ing “in­spired all Saudis” be­cause it was a sign of ex­pan­sion and devel­op­ment, fol­lowed by King Khalid Air­port in Riyadh and then King Fahd Air­port in Dam­mam.

Malat said that air­ports at that time “were small and in the heart of the cities,” and de­scribed King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port as a “real break­through.”

“We were ea­gerly wait­ing for the air­port build­ing. It was com­pleted very quickly, at a time when Jed­dah had a nar­row ge­o­graphic area and the city was not as big as it is to­day.”

Malat said that King Ab­du­laziz the lat­est tech­nol­ogy of its time.” Capt. Es­sam Yes­lam said that the his­tory of avi­a­tion in Saudi Ara­bia has been linked from the out­set to the train­ing of cadres work­ing in the sec­tor’s fa­cil­i­ties and de­part­ments for both civil and mil­i­tary use.

“When we were young, we used to look with ad­mi­ra­tion and fas­ci­na­tion at every­thing new in this field, and we are grate­ful for the spe­cial care that our coun­try and our lead­er­ship are pay­ing to this sec­tor, giv­ing spe­cial in­ter­est to all de­vel­op­ments and in­no­va­tions world­wide,” he said.

Capt. Yes­lam noted that ur­ban ex­pan­sion through­out the King­dom dur­ing the 1970s put a bur­den on the old Jed­dah air­port, lo­cated in the cen­ter of the city, sur­rounded by build­ings from all sides.

“King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port was de­signed along the model of Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., as re­sources were ded­i­cated to de­sign a new and modern air­port with up-to-date char­ac­ter­is­tics ap­proved by King Faisal.”

He said: “For­tu­nately, all sec­tions of King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port be­came fully op­er­a­tional, in­clud­ing the north­ern and south­ern fa­cil­i­ties, pil­grims’ halls with an an­nual ca­pac­ity of nearly 8 mil­lion pas­sen­gers, modern nav­i­ga­tional equip­ment, three run­ways that were at the time a great leap for­ward in the process of the devel­op­ment and mod­ern­iza­tion of the King­dom, ac­com­pa­nied by a ma­jor ex­pan­sion in the fleet of Sau­dia Air­lines, and an in­crease in its in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic flights, in­ter­na­tional and pri­vate air­lines com­pa­nies, and in the num­ber of pil­grims.”

Yes­lam said that 30 mil­lion pas­sen­gers passed through the air­port in its first ex­pan­sion phase and there were plans to host 80 mil­lion pas­sen­gers by the third stage — one of the most no­table de­vel­op­ments he has seen since be­gin­ning ser­vice with Sau­dia in 1977.

Former Saudi Ara­bian Air­lines as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Sup­plied

King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port cre­ated a rev­o­lu­tion in avi­a­tion in the Mid­dle East and, more specif­i­cally, Saudi Air­lines. Ali Malat The iconic tent­like struc­ture has seen mil­lions of trav­el­ers pass through its high­ceilinged halls since its his­toric open­ing in 1981.


Above: King Khalid and Prince Ab­dul­lah at the in­au­gu­ra­tion of King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port in April 1981.


An old ad in 1981 wel­com­ing King Khalid and con­grat­u­lat­ing him for the open­ing of the new air­port.

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