RIYADH: The flight tests that took place on July 20 and 21 at Saudi Arabia’s brand new international airport, under construction at the Red Sea Project, mark the beginning of a new era of tourism and travel in the Kingdom.
The first phase of this Saudi Vision 2030 project will welcome the first guests early next year.
Over five hours drive from the nearest major existing international airports in Jeddah or Medina and over two hours from the nearest regional international airports in Yanbu or AlUla, the Red Sea International Airport will bring national and international customers at the doorstep of this new tourist destination.
The TRSP is a uniquely regenerative development with the vast majority of land and sea areas remaining undisturbed and the development intervention carefully selected to achieve a net positive environmental benefit by 2040. In addition, supporting infrastructure, such as the new airport, has been approached with sensitivity to stay true to the vision and values of the Red Sea.
TRSDC’s Airport Project Executive Director, Joseph Stratford, a civil and environmental engineer who has spent most of his career delivering airport infrastructure in the Middle East, is spearheading the project.
He spent five years in his native country to apply his experience in international airport delivery to the expansion of London Heathrow Airport. He has since returned to the Kingdom to lead the delivery of Next Generation Aviation.
The Red Sea International Airport is the most iconic, progressive and special. The architectural concept, the mode of operation and the customer experience are truly unique.
“Red Sea International Airport is one of the smallest airports I have managed, but without a doubt the most iconic, progressive and special. The architectural concept, the mode of operation and the customer experiences are truly unique,” Stratford told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
Deliberately located about 20 km from sensitive coastal lagoons and islands, home to valuable mangroves and reefs, the airport is nestled in an open plain between coastal dunes and mountains.
“There has been a quantum leap in recent years in sensitive delivery in this region, in terms of how we approach, plan, deliver and operate facilities like these,” Stratford explained.
“It’s all about the culture of care for the workforce, environmental protection, processes, product quality, meeting deadlines and costs. The extended team and I are passionate about ensuring projects like this are delivered responsibly,” he added.
Stratford previously lived in TRSP Construction Village Housing alongside many of the airport contractors’ 1,800 employees. It moved this year to the Coastal Village Residences, where TRDSC offices, management hotels, apartments, villas and townhouses accepted staff, vendors and visitors in the final stages of construction of the TRSP ahead of the gradual opening of resorts to tourists next year.
“Striving for high standards has been key to the speed and quality of delivery of airport facilities so far,” Stratford said. “Indeed, the airport project has exceeded nine million safe working hours with no lost time injuries.”
TRSDC’s approach aligns with the national and industry leadership mandate that aviation development is a critical enabler of economic growth and should focus on environmental and sustainability implications and challenges.
Stratford added: “As well as providing iconic and progressive installations in form and function, we have considered sustainability and the environment from the outset.
“For the construction of the airfield, the contractors met the highest standards and expectations I have seen in my career: impact assessments, permits, monitoring and reporting are taken seriously. The culture, pride, passion, professionalism and attention of the team play their part.
Construction is underway on the passenger terminal facilities, with structural and building envelope assemblies awarded and commenced. TRSP will be entirely off-grid, including the airport, powered by a solar farm and the world’s largest battery storage facility.
Go high on the odds
Additionally, the airport’s passenger terminal facilities have followed LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the rating system used by the US Green Building Council to measure a building’s sustainability and resource efficiency.
“We’ve been aiming high for a Platinum rating,” Stratford said. “The detailed preliminary design phase rating suggests we are on track for a Gold rating or better, to be confirmed by construction and operations.”
He added: “We were pushed towards the requirements, the selection of materials, the methods, the equipment, the reduction and reuse of energy and resources.”
In theory, around 15% of the aviation industry’s carbon challenge is associated with airport ground infrastructure, and the remaining 85% is associated with jets and flight.
“We are aware on our part of the aviation sustainability and carbon challenge, and what we can do with the practices and technology of the day, but we are also looking at what we can do to facilitate the technologies and emerging practices,” Stratford said.
For example, RSI plans infrastructure for sustainable aviation fuels, ground power and preconditioned air, resource utilization, and energy-efficient operational practices.
Mobility like never before
Local land and sea mobility to the stations will be by more sustainable electric vehicles chosen rather than petrol or diesel powered vehicles.
In the case of air taxis, although initially planned to be conventional amphibious seaplanes, the airport has a dedicated secondary runway, which will be one of the first to adopt the hydrogen seaplane variants and the technology of eVTOL and eSTOL aircraft.
While eVTOL is the acronym for Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing Technology, eSTOL is an electric short take-off and landing aircraft.
This approach will allow customers and their luggage to travel quickly, quietly and sustainably to and from resorts in style and pure spectacle.
The air taxi terminal is expected to open next year, initially to be used for a combination of air taxi, domestic and general aviation for customer access to the first tranche of hotels. The iconic main terminal will provide international commercial aviation capacity and capacity for successive tranches of delivery and hotel operations.
The recently launched flight tests are a necessary step for all new airports where a purpose-built aircraft, loaded with specialist equipment, maneuvers new runways to test visual and instrumental aids and systems. Additionally, it allows pilots to perform safe and efficient take-offs and landings in a variety of weather and other operating conditions.
Unparalleled operating methods
Unlike today’s standards, the entire travel process operational plans at RSI ensure top-notch customer services and create an environment that provides a seamless, unparalleled and hassle-free experience.
For example, the aviation team is working to implement a single concept of operations for baggage handling. RSI passengers won’t have to worry about stopping at a baggage claim area to collect their luggage.
“Instead, passengers will be escorted to the Welcome Center in the arrivals area. Baggage will be handled in a dedicated facility using a state-of-the-art baggage handling system that can track each piece until it is delivered to the owner at the chosen destination,” said Abdulaziz Al-Abdan, Flight Operations Manager, RSI.
Additionally, the airport will apply discreet and non-intrusive security arrangements and procedures, enhancing the overall customer experience without violating regulatory requirements governing such operations.
Additionally, RSI will be the first and only airport in the Middle East and North Africa to service amphibious seaplanes and be connected to water aerodromes.
The airport has a dedicated runway for seaplanes and small general aviation operations, allowing direct air access to Red Sea destinations.
“Our aviation team has worked closely with the General Civil Aviation Authority to establish the regulatory framework for water aerodromes, seaplanes and airstrips,” Al-Abdan said.
The regulatory framework has resulted in the introduction and application of a new set of safety rules that govern the establishment and operation of water aerodromes GACA Regulation Part 139, as well as the agreement on the certifications of Red Sea Air Services Co. to operate seaplanes and water strips. .
Beautiful by design
What differentiates RSI is that it is a premium tourist destination airport and not a regular civilian airport. Its scope of operations includes mobility and hospitality services that begin when customers arrive at the airport until they finally check into their hotels.
“The airport is an extension of the exclusive Red Sea Resorts and will be the first and last impression of all our distinguished guests,” said Ammar Ghaith, Associate Director of Airport Infrastructure, RSI.
It has a unique design with efficient space planning that allows fewer steps to complete the check-in or check-out process, in addition to minimal human intervention and the shortest processing times.
The airport has partnered with key stakeholders to facilitate its flight procedures and airspace networks.
Stakeholders include GACA, Saudi Air Navigation Services, airport aviation consultant United ATS, FlyNas, FlyAdeal, TRSDC Operations, TRS Seaplane Co., airside contractor Nesma Almabani Joint Venture, water runway consultant Jacobs and the airport operator DAAI.