After a decade of planning, Bahrain Airport opened a new state-of-the-art terminal to the tune of $1.1bn in January 2021. The legacy building – which was initially designed to process four million passengers per year – had done a valiant job, handling more than 9.5 million passengers in 2019, but it was no longer fit for purpose.

As part of Bahrain Airport’s comprehensive Airport Modernisation Programme (AMP), the upgrade is four times the size of its predecessor – with the capacity to handle 14 million passengers. In addition, it offers travellers a much more streamlined and secure experience thanks to dozens of integrated technology systems, including self-bag-drop and immigration e-gates.

“[The legacy terminal] did more than we could have asked it to do, and it was time to look forward to something more representative of the various aspects of life in Bahrain that have progressed over the years,” says Mohamed Yousif Al Binfalah, CEO of Bahrain Airport Company (BAC), who has overseen the entire transformation process since 2012, when the idea to upgrade the existing terminal was first put on the planning table.

In 2013, the strategy shifted to constructing a completely new building. Design and project management consultants were appointed the following year. By 2015, preparations for the site were under way and in 2016 the main contractor was appointed and broke ground on the new terminal. “Just prior to the pandemic, we had almost completed the construction, we were in the final stages of testing, commissioning and preparing for public trials, and then things started to go south,” Al Binfalah recalls.

At that point, the airport was dealing with bringing stranded Bahrainis back home on repatriation flights to the legacy terminal, while trying to carry out the trials necessary to establish that the new terminal was ready for operations. In the end, they decided to massively scale back these trials, using only airport staff to ascertain whether the new technology systems were talking to each other.


Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) plans to upgrade the Bahrain International Airport terminal.


BAC decides to construct an entirely new terminal rather than upgrade the existing one.


Design and project management consultants are appointed to the project.


Preparations for the site get under way


The main contractor is appointed and breaks ground on the new terminal.


Bahrain International Airport sees over 9.5 million passengers pass through its doors, five million more than it was originally designed to process.


Bahrain International Airport loses around 76% of its annual traffic due to Covid-19.

Jan 2021

Bahrain International Airport opens its new $1.1bn terminal.


Bahrain International Airport’s traffic levels are expected to return to 2019 levels.


New life expectancy of Bahrain International Airport due to opening of new terminal.

This also ensured that nobody – passengers or staff – was going to be exposed to unnecessary risk. Contactless technology was always going to be integral to the new terminal, but amid a global pandemic, it had new meaning. “We had to reflect on the way passengers and authorities reacted to the pandemic – technology became very much an obvious response to enhance the safety and well-being of not only passengers but staff working in the terminal building,” Al Binfalah says. “No one was really prepared so we had to improvise like everyone else, thinking about how to facilitate the passenger journey in this new reality. It was a bit hectic, but we managed to pull all the strings that were needed to start operations in January 2021.”

A streamlined customer journey

Underpinned by a robust IT platform made up of 25 integrated subsystems, the new terminal building is highly connected. “It is the ideal IT environment to grow and to respond to the ever-changing technological solutions within the airport industry,” says Al Binfalah.

The passenger journey is virtually contactless. Passengers can complete their check-in procedures through self-service kiosks, including checking-in their own baggage. They then use their boarding pass to move from the check-in area to border control. CT scanning has been implemented at the hand luggage screening stage, so passengers do not have to pull their electronics or liquids out of their bags. At border control, they are then met by e-gates with facial recognition. Security remains manual, although human contact has been minimised through technology. “The only part that must be done manually is the boarding gate and this is mainly to do with managing entry visa requirements,” Al Binfalah explains. “That is something, unfortunately, that will take time to automate.”

That said, the airport is working on a pilot project for a single-token, end-to-end solution from check-in to the boarding gate. “Once implemented, I believe this will tell us and our partners at the airport a lot about how to prepare for the future and for similar disruptions. In my opinion, this pandemic is probably not going to be the last one that we have to deal with,” Al Binfalah notes.

One of the biggest challenges the airport expects to face when implementing more contactless technology is information protection. “There is a lot of personal data that needs to be captured, whether biometrics or otherwise. We are conscious of the fact that we need to put in place a system that will respond to such concerns,” Al Binfalah says. “I think that’s where we need to focus on the pilot project – how to strike a balance between the facilitation requirements and the data protection expectations by passengers.”

Design priorities

The shift from the old terminal to the new has been a major one for airport staff, with many of their roles and responsibilities having to be reshaped. “Not only have we put a lot of time and effort into familiarising them with the new technology; we are also emphasising more the importance of creating a pleasant experience,” Al Binfalah says. “Some of the staff that became more available are now dedicating more of their time into looking after the passenger journey at the terminal.”

They are supported by the layout of the new terminal, which was consciously designed not to compromise the customer experience, with outdoor terraces and elements of Bahrain’s local heritage integrated throughout.

“We had an opportunity to look at various layouts and decided on a design that is similar to the old one, with minimal number of levels in terms of navigating between ground departure and arrival,” Al Binfalah says. “We didn’t want the size to be overwhelming. It’s balanced between the positives of the old terminal and the ability to fulfil a capacity of 14 million passengers per annum.”

The facility is also Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold-certified, making it the largest green building in the Kingdom of Bahrain. “There is a lot of natural light and the quality of the internal environment, the quality of air and the HVAC system play an important role in making it a very healthy environment for passengers,” Al Binfalah says. The building also features its own hotel and spa for transit passengers and an airport clinic with a dedicated team of healthcare professionals available around the clock. In addition, there is a state-of-the-art information kiosk providing details about public transport, taxis, car rentals, tourist attractions and more, while parking facilities have been improved with a new electronic system with self-service kiosks for payment. Passengers are also encouraged to make purchases wirelessly using digital wallets.

Expanding route networks

The combination of the extra capacity and advanced technology at the new terminal means Bahrain is more than equipped to expand its route network and grow as a hub. Yet while Al Binfalah is confident that more foreign airlines will ultimately decide to launch services to Bahrain, this has not yet materialised. “Just like airports, airlines are going through a tough time; expansion and development of new routes is not at the top of their priority list at this stage,” he says.

Nonetheless, the airport is currently working on five expressions of interest for airlines to connect to new destinations via Bahrain. They are also working closely with their partner, Gulf Air, which launched an extensive list of new destinations for their summer schedule in March. In 2020, the airport lost around 76% of traffic, but is now back to 51% of its historical traffic. Al Binfalah believes that by 2023 the airport will be operating at close to 2019 levels again.

Next steps for Bahraini aviation

With the new facility effectively extending the life of the airport until at least 2040, Al Binfalah is now considering the next steps for the long-term growth of Bahrain’s aviation sector. As part of the Bahraini government’s economic recovery plan – a wide-ranging strategy designed to restore its post-pandemic economy and balance its budget by 2024 – five new townships will be constructed across the Kingdom, one of which will be centred around a new airport.

“We are working very closely with the government to develop the urban planning for this township. We have recommended the size of the future terminal for the Kingdom of Bahrain. We will probably go to the market this year and we’re exploring the option of working with of a consultant to develop various levels of strategy for the project,” Al Binfalah says.

In the meantime, he and his team at the existing airport plan to build on the solid technology foundation they have created through a five-year digitisation strategy. “Technology is quite a tricky thing. It is on the move, it keeps changing. The system that you installed yesterday is probably dated today,” Al Binfalah notes. “Now that we have installed a modern platform that meets the expectations of our current passenger demographic, we believe that moving forward, we need to be one step ahead and look at all the advancements that are in the pipeline and the technologies that are being experimented with across the industry. That’s our focus now. We want to reflect on where the industry is going both airport-wise and airline-wise, and try to implement necessary changes over the next five years.”


The cost of the new state-of-the-art terminal at Bahrain International Airport.

14 Million

The passenger capacity of the new terminal at Bahrain International Airport.

Bahrain Airport Company