A new Cairo Airport is set to open… and another is already in the pipeline

Egypt’s Ministry of Aviation commenced final preparations for the opening of the Cairo West Sphinx International Airport, which is expected to help reduce the capacity pressure on Cairo International Airport. The official opening is expected to be within the coming weeks.


Summary:

  • A new airport to the west of Cairo, albeit much smaller in scale to its international gateway, will reduce congestion at the city’s main gateway;
  • It will be situated on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road and would provide better access to the Giza Pyramids and Grand Egyptian Museum;
  • A further airport is planned for Egypt’s ‘new capital city’, which is set to become the new administrative and financial capital of the country;
  • The airport developments around Cairo suggest that air transport is being treated as a serious issue and could help attract foreign investors.

The airport is situated on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road to the west of Cairo, its ‘Sphinx’ name suggesting its location close to the Giza Pyramids and Grand Egyptian Museum. This places it in the opposite direction to Cairo International Airport and in a city (Giza) which is the third most populous in its own right in the country. As such it draws comparison with the two existing airports in Istanbul, which serve different areas.

MAP – Cairo, Giza, the current Cairo International Airport, the Giza Necropolis, the site of the soon to open new airportSource: Google Maps

Cairo West Sphinx International will be the 33rd Egyptian airport. Construction work on the airport began in 2016, and was registered and calibrated by ICAO. The Sphinx International Airport will help relieve pressure on Cairo International Airport and air traffic to the heart of Cairo. It will serve Giza, al-Sheikh Zayed and 6th of October City as well governorates such as Beni Suef and Fayoum.

The original intention was to handle charter flights, which make up a small percentage of Cairo International’s business (currently 1.4% as measured by seat capacity) but that could change. For example low-cost scheduled has now reached the giddy heights of 3.4% of seat capacity and some of that could be encouraged to use the new airport.

The facility is based around Cairo West Air Base, currently a military facility used by the Egyptian Air Force and a similar measure was also proposed for Qatameya Air Base. Sphinx Airport, built at a cut-price EGP300 million (USD17 million) with no private sector participation, will have a capacity of 300 passengers per hour (which equates to around 875,000 passengers per annum), and will feature a 3650m runway, a benefit arising from its military use.

However, there have been delays to its opening already. The original opening date was Jan-2018, which was put back to summer 2018 and after a ‘soft’ opening. Presumably, such a soft opening is still built into the schedule.

Cairo International’s passenger traffic total reached almost 16.5 million in 2016, but then fell by 3.1% to 15.96 million in 2017. Part of the reason is a lack of capacity. The total number of seats grew by just 1.6% in 2017, down from 6% the previous year, and the increase in 2018 looks to be of the same order.

CHART – Traffic at Cairo International Airport has grown at its fastest annual rate (+13.5%) across the first eight months of 2018, ahead of the +13.0% high recorded in 2012, but they followed a -19.3% decline the year earlierSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

The Sphinx airport and the proposed Qatameya Air Base transformation are not the only airport-related activity in and around Cairo presently. Egypt proposes to build a ‘new capital city’ further to the east of the Cairo conurbation, around 45 km (30 miles) distant and just outside the Second Greater Cairo Ring Road in an underdeveloped area part-way to the port city of Suez. The area is part-owned by the armed forces.

The city would become the new administrative and financial capital of Egypt, in the manner of, say, Brasilia, or Abuja, or Canberra, housing the main government departments and ministries, as well as foreign embassies in a 700 square kilometres (270 sq miles) total area, and with a population of five million people, increasing to seven million.

A major reason for the undertaking of the project is to relieve congestion in Cairo, which is already one of the world’s most crowded cities, with the population of greater Cairo expected to double in the next few decades.

Only recently, in Aug-2018, Egypt’s Minister of Civil Aviation announced that the new administrative capital will house a new airport – currently known as New Egyptian Capital City Airport – bigger than Cairo International, in order to encourage foreign investment. It is understood that Egyptian Holding Company for Airports and Air Navigation (EHCAAN) has already held some trial operations at the new airport site.

The theory is that if the intention is to mould this new capital into a fresh financial centre for the Middle East, then it must contain its own airport. Whether or not the new capital will draw in the foreign investment it hopes to attract remains to be seen. It appears Egyptis ahead of the game with airport investment – elsewhere in Egypt other airport developments are under way at Bredwell (Sinai), the South Red Sea Airport and the Ras Sidr Airport.