Trouble at Terminal 2
As Cairo International Airport's expansion project shifts into high gear, traffic woes and disorganisation seem to be the order of the day. Amirah Ibrahim reports
Last Saturday, a young Saudi Arabian woman who had just gotten to Cairo International Airport's Terminal 2 from Riyadh was shouting at a top airport official. She wanted to summon Saudi Arabia's ambassador and file a complaint against the airport authorities. She was angry, as thousands of other passengers have been, about the fact that most vehicles were not being allowed to approach the terminal anymore.
Airport officials began banning most vehicles from driving up to Terminal 2 10 days ago. Instead, departing and arriving passengers must take a shuttle bus from a temporary car park for the two-kilometre ride to the terminal. The measure was meant to reduce crowds while construction progresses on a brand new terminal that the government promises will finally bring Cairo's main gateway up to par with international airport standards.
Cairo Airport's Terminal 3 is being built by TAV Hol, a Turkish company, at a cost of $350 million, of which $280 million in loans were provided by the World Bank.
Airlines and tour operators have filed complaints with Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq, claiming that their business had been affected by the Terminal 2 traffic ban. After following the situation for several days, Shafiq and the airport authorities have taken several steps that they hope will resolve some of the problems. For one, EgyptAir's domestic flights to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh were moved to Terminal 1 (where vehicle traffic is flowing as always), thus reducing Terminal 2's traffic by 600,000 passengers a year. The rules were then changed to allow limousines, tour buses, handicapped vehicles and ambulances to drive up to Terminal 2.
Cairo International Airport Company Head Mohamed Fathallah said some "taxis and private cars were also later allowed through in certain exceptional cases, but that ended up causing more problems when some people -- mainly top officials from government bodies -- began abusing the rules." Fathallah said the problems began when exceptions were made in the first place.
The confusion looks set to dominate the airport until the new terminal is finished in 2007.
According to Airport's Holding Company Head Ibrahim Mannaa', Terminal 3 will expand Cairo International Airport's capacity by 11 million passengers a year, bringing it up to an annual total of 20 million. "The new terminal will consist of two arrival and departure halls, as well as a transit hall. Also planned, in a second, later phase, is a new runway with provisions for the latest A-380 aircraft and 34 more remote aircraft," Mannaa' said.
In the meantime, the renovation of Terminal 1's Hall 3 wrapped up just five weeks ago, at an estimated cost of LE430 million. The shiny new hall currently only serves a few international flights, but Mannaa' said the aim was to eventually shift considerable amount of international flights there until the new Terminal 3 is done. "Hall 3 is Cairo International's biggest arrival hall, with a capacity of 250 passengers per hour. It consists of two floors with a total space of 12,000 metres equipped to serve six wide aircraft at one time. It also includes a 40,000-metre welcoming area."
Airlines operating at Terminal 2 were asked to move their offices and employees to the newly-renovated hall. This week, two airlines -- AirFrance and KLM -- responded positively, thus reducing Terminal 2's load by 240,000 passengers a year. Many other airlines refused. "Some of them wanted to bargain for free services and more privileges in return," Fathallah said.
Terminal 2 is mostly used by foreign and Arab airlines, while Terminal 1 has traditionally been the home of EgyptAir. That was one of the main reasons why some of the airlines refused to move. "Terminal 1 is officially allocated for the national carrier, which has Cairo International's biggest movement levels," said Emirates Airline Regional Manager Mohamed Khaled Asad. "For a big airline to move and operate beside EgyptAir would create problems for both carriers with services and arrangements." Emirates, for instance, operates eight scheduled flights a week, transferring more than 200,000 passengers between Cairo and Dubai.
Another problem is the fact that "Terminal 1 is not equipped with passenger tubes, and for Emirates it is something to consider as we have 60 VIP passengers -- 18 first class and 42 business class -- every day on board our flights, who would be disturbed by such a move." The Emirates' manager also indicated that the price of renting office space at Terminal 1 is much higher than the prices at Terminal 2. "We will pay double for offices and services, and will have to establish new contacts with those employees and officials who are relevant to our work, which will take time to manage. And then, in less than two years, we would have to move again -- this time to Terminal 3, once it's done. It would really interrupt our business," Asad said.
Other companies, like Saudi Airlines, have too much traffic -- one million passengers a year -- for Terminal 1 to handle, and have instead "agreed to reschedule additional flights and shift them away from the terminal's peak operational hours," Fathallah said.
Much of the blame for the confusion is being directed at Fraport, the German management company that runs Frankfurt Airport, and which first took over operations at Cairo Airport in February. "We are here but we are no magicians," said Fraport Executive Manager Manfred Bayer. Bayer complains of passengers' lack of discipline and cultural attitudes: "We provided signs of the changes everywhere inside the terminal and on the roads leading to both Terminals 1 and 2. But people do not like to follow signs, they prefer to go the wrong way instead, then ask each other, then go back, and so on. This results in a lot of crowds --standing here and there, moving forward and back -- who in general refuse to be orderly."
Blaming Fraport for failing to manage the problematic situation is unfair, Bayer said. "We started our mission in February, and then were told that TAV would start the second phase of construction works in March, meaning we would have to stop traffic from April. We refused, because we had specified 25 items that had not been achieved as prerequisites to facilitating passenger movement in and out of the terminal."
Among those items, Bayer said, were ordering 14 shuttle buses at a cost of $21 million, establishing a temporary car park to host taxis, limousines and private cars, and moving some of the airlines from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 for the next two years. "We did a brilliant job in getting those buses in less than six months, whereas it would have ordinarily taken nine to 12 months. However, it appears they are not enough." Here again, Bayer blames the passengers. "I saw a passenger with 21 bags occupying nearly half the total area of one of the buses."
According to Bayer, a suggestion to construct a steel bridge to ensure smoother transfers of passengers away from the construction site was turned down. He also says Fraport "printed 75,000 flyers with a map of the location and information about traffic shifts, and asked the airlines to distribute it with tickets sold. I visited some airline offices and saw the flyers still packed in boxes, with employees not even bothering to give them to passengers."