A fo­cus on in­fra­struc­ture

From en­ergy to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and trans­port, Bahrain is in­vest­ing in world-class in­fra­struc­ture

Newsweek - - Bahrain -

A $32-bil­lion in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment pro­gram is un­der­way in Bahrain that in­cludes land­mark trans­port, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and en­ergy projects.

Min­is­ter of Trans­porta­tion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Ka­mal Bin Ahmed Mo­hammed says more in­vest­ment in his sec­tors is im­por­tant: “Bahrain is an is­land and the gate­way to the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC), so lo­gis­tics—mov­ing peo­ple, goods and in­for­ma­tion—are vi­tal. For ex­am­ple, we are in talks to build a se­cond cause­way with Saudi Ara­bia and to link to the GCC rail­way project, and we are con­struct­ing a new ter­mi­nal at Bahrain International Air­port (BIA), to in­crease ca­pac­ity to 14 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year.”

Land­mark air­port mod­ern­iza­tion project

“Com­pet­i­tive, ef­fi­cient and friendly,” BIA is the king­dom’s gate­way says Mo­hamed Yousif Al-bin­falah, CEO of Bahrain Air­port Com­pany (BAC), which is re­spon­si­ble for BIA’S oper­a­tion and was formed in 2008 as one of Bahrain’s first pri­va­ti­za­tions. Built in the 1970s and ex­panded in 1994, the cur­rent ter­mi­nal of the GCC’S first international air­port has a ca­pac­ity of around four-mil­lion an­nual pas­sen­gers. How­ever, he notes: “The coun­try’s eco­nomic growth has seen the ter­mi­nal stretched and BIA now pro­cesses nine mil­lion pas­sen­gers per year with these con­strained in­fra­struc­ture re­sources, which is a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion for BAC and its part­ners.”

Even with that chal­lenge, BAC has run the air­port prof­itably since 2010—and funded all of the air­port’s op­er­a­tions, main­te­nance, and cap­i­tal in­vest­ments—and 2017 saw net profit ris­ing 70 per­cent year-on-year to about $34 mil­lion, re­flect­ing a 20 per­cent spike in rev­enues to $112 mil­lion. But to sus­tain op­er­a­tional and com­mer­cial ex­cel­lence for trav­ellers and stake­hold­ers, the air­port’s in­fra­struc­ture, fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices needed el­e­vat­ing, so BAC de­vel­oped a strate­gic roadmap for the fu­ture. “Through this strat­egy and in co­op­er­a­tion with our part­ners, BAC aims to in­crease the avi­a­tion sec­tor’s con­tri­bu­tion to the na­tional econ­omy,” says Al-bin­falah.

Launched in 2014, BIA’S mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram has been fast tracked, con­struc­tion is on time, over 60 per­cent com­plete and op­er­a­tional tri­als should start in spring 2019, says Al-bin­falah: “We are fo­cused on serv­ing cus­tomers through the new ter­mi­nal by the third quar­ter of 2019.” Its de­sign, he notes, “ad­heres to the high­est en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity prac­tices and it will be LEED gold cer­ti­fied for en­ergy con­sump­tion and wa­ter con­ser­va­tion. We have also pro­vided a ro­bust in­for­ma­tion-tech­nol­ogy plat­form, so the con­cept of a smart air­port will be very easy to im­ple­ment here.”

The de­sign ad­di­tion­ally takes into ac­count pro­jected pas­sen­ger de­mands and avi­a­tion trends. “Pas­sen­gers will have more con­tact gates, a ded­i­cated road for BIA, and will be able to tra­verse the ter­mi­nal more quickly than at any other re­gional air­port,” he ex­plains. “The duty free area will be four-times larger and re­tail ar­eas three-times big­ger, turn­ing the air­port into a key com­mer­cial hub. It will also have more food and bev­er­age of­fer­ings, with SSP Group mak­ing its Bahrain de­but, and a broad se­lec­tion of lo­cal brands al­low­ing the air­port to treat all cus­tomers, even tran­sit pas­sen­gers, to a taste of Bahraini hos­pi­tal­ity. In ad­di­tion, there will be more lounges, an air­side ho­tel, spa and clinic.”

Ben­e­fits for air­lines in­clude re­ha­bil­i­tated air­port apron and air­craft stands, and a new fuel depot. “We are also work­ing on a main­te­nance, re­pair and over­haul hangar, a gen­eral avi­a­tion ter­mi­nal, and hope to start a run­way up­grade soon,” says Al-bin­falah. All of these things should at­tract more international air­lines and re­in­force BIA as an avi­a­tion hub, a po­si­tion it holds in part by of­fer­ing the re­gion’s most eco­nom­i­cal charges and fuel prices. Lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies will also wel­come BAC’S up­com­ing new cargo area, with ware­houses and air­craft park­ing, which is “part of our ef­forts to trans­form lo­gis­tics and air cargo into one of Bahrain’s pri­mary sec­tors,” he says. In this and through­out its mod­ern­iza­tion, the new BIA will en­able di­verse eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, and Al-bin­falah looks for­ward to “es­tab­lish­ing pri­vate-sec­tor part­ner­ships to take ad­van­tage of the de­vel­op­ments.”

As well as trans­port projects, the gov­ern­ment is fo­cused on telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, stresses Mo­hammed: “The world is chang­ing and a knowl­edge-based econ­omy is what will dif­fer­en­ti­ate coun­tries in the fu­ture. Bahrain must en­sure it has the cor­rect in­fra­struc­ture.” The United Na­tions ranks its cur­rent in­fra­struc­ture as the world’s 11th best, 72 per­cent of the coun­try is con­nected to a fiber-op­tic net­work and it has four international telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ca­bles. But, says the min­is­ter, “We need more di­ver­sity and ca­pac­ity. We hope fiber-op­tic con­nec­tions will reach 100 per­cent in 2020 and are in talks with in­vestors to bring more international ca­bles.”

The telecoms mar­ket leader drives change

The first coun­try in the GCC to fully dereg­u­late telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, Bahrain has three op­er­a­tors: Batelco, Zain and mar­ket-leader VIVA Bahrain, a sub­sidiary of Saudi Tele­com Com­pany. VIVA CEO Ulaiyan M. Al We­taid shares Mo­hammed’s view about the sec­tor’s im­por­tance: “Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions are the mod­ern cor­ner­stone for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. VIVA launched in 2010 aim­ing to trans­form the in­dus­try and take it to the next level in terms of tech­nol­ogy, of­fer­ing and con­tri­bu­tion to peo­ple’s lives. Pro­vid­ing cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies helps cre­ate an in­fra­struc­ture that is very sup­port­ive for growth.”

VIVA in­vests heav­ily in in­fra­struc­ture and net­work up­grades, and de­vel­op­ing unique voice, data and en­ter­prise ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses. At the fore­front of in­no­va­tion and cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, it be­came mar­ket leader by 2012 and now of­fers the coun­try’s best cov­er­age and ser­vice, fastest speeds and clear­est con­nec­tions at some of the low­est prices. Amongst its many in­no­va­tions, VIVA was the first op­er­a­tor in Bahrain to show­case 4G, sup­ply true voice-over LTE and be­gin 4G+ ser­vices, and the first in the world to launch nine-beam an­tenna tech­nol­ogy, which de­liv­ers about nine times the ca­pac­ity of stan­dard mo­bile tow­ers. VIVA’S suc­cess­ful deployment of this at April’s Bahrain Grand Prix gave nearly 95,000 race­go­ers un­in­ter­rupted tele­com ser­vices.

Its lat­est first came in June, when it be­came the first in Bahrain to in­tro­duce live 5G—a game-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy that will en­able the In­ter­net of Things, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ro­bot­ics. This early adop­tion of 5G is ex­pected to drive the king­dom’s dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, pro­duc­tiv­ity and com­pet­i­tive­ness. “Bahrain leads the Arab world in terms of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions,” says Al We­taid; “This is a re­sult of col­lab­o­ra­tion from ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing our com­peti­tors. Ev­ery­day, we push our­selves and the in­dus­try to move for­ward. But be­ing in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, com­peti­tors repli­cate each other’s suc­cesses, which pushes VIVA to do even bet­ter to­mor­row.” Col­lab­o­ra­tion is also vi­tal for one of Bahrain’s ma­jor en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture projects: a 400 kv elec­tric­ity trans­mis­sion in­ter­con­nec­tor link­ing all GCC states as an emergency backup. “It will fur­ther im­prove the se­cu­rity and re­li­a­bil­ity of Bahrain’s power sup­ply,” be­lieves Hidd Power Com­pany (HPC) Ex­ec­u­tive Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Yahya Bin Yunus. HPC’S share­hold­ers—cur­rently Malaysia’s Malakoff, France’s Engie and Ja­pan’s Su­mit­omo—own a power plant that has five gas and one steam tur­bine units, one of which will be di­rectly con­nected to the in­ter­con­nec­tor.

“HPC sup­plies around 30 per­cent of Bahrain’s power and 60 per­cent of its potable wa­ter by pro­duc­ing nearly 1000 MW of power and 90 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter a day from 14 de­sali­na­tion units,” states Yunus; “We can’t af­ford to have break­downs and work hard to en­sure our pro­cesses are re­li­able, ef­fi­cient, safe and clean. Mak­ing our plant as ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant,” he says, “so we have ini­ti­ated dis­cus­sions with tur­bine man­u­fac­tur­ers to ex­plore tech­ni­cal op­tions.” In sen­ti­ments echoed by all in­volved in Bahrain’s in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, Yunus stresses that: “We are cru­cial to the coun­try and our goal is to have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the king­dom’s econ­omy.”

Min­is­ter of Trans­porta­tion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Ka­mal Bin Ahmed Mo­hammed

Mo­hamed Yousif Al-bin­falah CEO, Bahrain Air­port Com­pany

Ulaiyan M. Al We­taid CEO, VIVA Bahrain

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