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Arriving at Makkah

Article - June 19, 2012
On landing in Jeddah, pilgrims are welcomed by the state-of-the-art Hajj Terminal as they begin a journey of a lifetime

From every corner of the world, literally, millions of pilgrims start by arriving at the King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah every year on their way to Makkah to perform one of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj. It is a life-changing experience for Muslims.

Whether it is an elderly couple saving for this once-in-a-lifetime trip or a rich man on his fifth journey to Hajj; a child with his parents or a group of women with a pilgrimage organising company; an ailing mother finally getting the chance to do Hajj with her son or a young man taking the opportunity to perform Hajj for the first time, the experience is awe striking, transforming, translucent.

The spiritual metamorphosis begins as the pilgrims prepare for their journey from the point of travel and takes a hold of their state of mind and heart as they approach the holy city whether they are travelling by air, sea or land. For the pilgrims in Jeddah and Makkah itself, although the journey is not as long or gruelling as it is for some, it remains a spiritual destination that guides their every step.

Arriving at the King Abdul Aziz International Airport, hajjis (pilgrims) are welcomed at the newly expanded state-of-the-art Hajj terminal. The sight and sound of the sea of fellow pilgrims in their white simple garments surrounded by this new facility built for their service and comfort will lift their soul and prepare them for the arduous journey ahead.

The new Hajj Terminal is part of an overall development project of the King Abdul Aziz International Airport that began in 2003 to upgrade it to the highest standards and keep pace with expected increase in passengers.

The airport’s expansion is being implemented in three phases. When completed, the international airport will have four new terminal buildings, a high-speed rail link from Jeddah to the airport and a capacity of up to 80 million passengers a year.

The first phase of the project is expected to be complete by the end of 2012. It will raise capacity to 30 million passengers a year from the current 15 million per year.

The expansion includes aircraft hard stands and paved areas, lighting, fuel delivery systems and storm water drainage. There will also be a new support services building, renovation of the existing South and North terminals and upgrades of the existing runway and airfield systems to accommodate aircraft as big as the Airbus A380.

The three stages will be marked by capacity increases to 30 million, 60 million and 80 million passengers per year.

Based on current traffic increases, the existing South Terminal, used exclusively by Saudi Arabian Airlines, will need to serve about 21 million passengers per year over the next 20 years to meet growing demand.

The four new crescent-shaped passenger terminals with gold-coloured roofs will be located to the south of the current international terminal, which will undergo renovation at the same time.

The Hajj Terminal

The Hajj Terminal, which was built when the airport was first opened in 1981, is used only during the Hajj season, and it caters to Makkah-bound passengers only.

Here, the hajjis start to feel and live the overwhelming sense of being an ummah (nation) as they gather from all walks of life at this meeting place, from which they will embark on a common journey.

The terminal is the fourth largest in the world with a floor space of five million square feet (465,000m2) and is positioned on a site of over 100 acres (405,000m2) of ground area being well known for its signature tent-shaped roof.

The Hajj Terminal roof is not a tent, but consists of a white PTFE-coated fibreglass membrane (one of the largest structures of this type in the world). Each of the semi-conical roofs was constructed from 4.6m2 of the fibreglass material, which because of harsh sandstorms in the area is self-cleaning and has a life expectancy of 30 to 50 years.

The Hajj Terminal consists of two rectangular, two-storey, air-conditioned buildings (which contain airport services such as: immigration, customs, baggage reclaim areas and check-in counters) and also rectangular platforms, which are covered by the ‘tent-form’ roofs. The building has a central spine, providing an entry road for buses and taxis.

The material of the roofs was designed as a translucent material but it is made for low transmission of heat (only 7 per cent of light is allowed through) keeping the temperature down to around 80°F (27°C) when the exterior temperature is over 120°F (49°C).
The terminal also has its own mosque and can accommodate over 80,000 travellers at one time. The terminal is used by a variety of airline charters during the Hajj season; the only airline not using its facilities is Saudi Arabian Airlines since it only uses the South Terminal at the airport.

Hajj Terminal sound system

An important aspect of the Hajj terminal is its sound system, which was upgraded in mid-2007 with the system being designed by Citytec Mediatronics-ME and including the Renkus-Heinz Iconyx IC24 column speaker. Phase I of the sound system upgrade was completed prior to the 2007 Hajj and phase II was finished shortly after.

The sound system was designed to conduct important voice announcements over the background noise generated by up to 80,000 people in the Hajj Terminal at any one time. The system also uses an automatic announcement system from Sittig Industrial Electronics of Germany to make announcements in multiple languages.

The audio distribution for the system uses a Klotz Digital Vadis triple eight framework (real-time system), which can play simultaneously eight different announcements to any number of zones around the terminal.

Construction and development of the Hajj Terminal

With the increase in the number of pilgrims over the years and the expected further increase, it was deemed necessary to develop the Hajj Terminal. The purpose of the project is to increase the capacity of the terminal, improve the standards of services and convert the terminal into a commercial unit.

A new company called (ADPM) was formed with a specialised international French company in airport management to upgrade the terminal and operate it.

Saudi nationals were trained by this company to operate it.

The project covers a total area of 230,000m2, 90,000m2 represents the terminal and 140,000m2 covers the piazza around it.

The pilgrims who arrive at the new improved terminal might not notice all the changes but they will appreciate the upgrade in facilities and services provided.

The Hajj Terminal consists of 10 jetways that will serve all aircraft including the A380; 10 travellers’ lounges in the upper floor that can be increased to 12 and four lounges on the ground floor that can be increased to six; baggage belts; travellers’ counters (104 D-1 temporary counters and 58 D-2 permanent counters); and a baggage handling system with a capacity reaching about 3,000 units per hour.

The terminal also accommodates a central operation building for all government agencies responsible for Hajj; horizontal and vertical movements; emergency and health care centre; VIP and First Class passengers’ lounges; a duty-free area and food courts; and an administration area.

There is also a piazza area consisting of 20 waiting areas, each with a capacity of a medium-sized planeload; a hotel (with 123 rooms), food courts and shops; a temporary weighing area with 88 counters to check overweight baggage; parking that holds 70 buses and 1,300 small cars; and special areas for customs passports and other government agencies.

Once the hajjis process their paperwork to enter Saudi Arabia at the Hajj Terminal, they ride their buses that take them to Makkah.