Connecting people: Bahrain’s transportation sector on the rise
Comprising more than 30 islands in the Arabian Gulf, Bahrain has seen a meteoric rise and reported an annual economic growth rate of 2.9% in the first quarter of 2017. This was in line with the performance seen in 2016. According to the Bahrain Quarterly Economic Report by Economic Development Board, the strong growth materialised in spite of a small contraction in the oil sector along with minimal expansion in government services. The momentum is supported by a record infrastructure pipeline.
In an exclusive with LNME, HE Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed, Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications, mentions that the Kingdom is currently busy with execution of plans and working on the infrastructure, also focusing on investment that empowers the people.
“Bahrain is a neutral country; we enjoy great relationships with everybody from the region and all around the world. We want to work together for the benefit of everybody. When it comes to markets, the GCC is an important market to Bahrain, especially Saudi Arabia (to me, it’s part of our local market).”
For air transport, the Gulf state is investing in a new $1.1bn terminal building for a capacity of 14 million passengers per year. The project is already in the implementation stage, concept is finished and in design stages. HE Mohammed says: “We completed almost 40% of the project; hopefully this new terminal building will be operational in Q3 2019. We are progressing as planned as we keep working day and night.
“This project will definitely improve the quality of services we provide to our passengers and the airlines that uses Bahrain International Airport. It will also enable us to attract more airlines to the country. We might not have the biggest airport, because we don’t need to build something that we don’t need. We need to build something that will allow us to grow, attract new airlines, and use our resources wisely.”
Also, the ministry is investing in building new MRO facilities that will accommodate almost three aircrafts. HE Mohammed points out: “We are nearly completing the design stage by French company SETEC, who is responsible for the development of the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) zone, which includes a new MRO hangar, main stores, new aircraft parking, aprons, new taxiway, airfield pavement, engine run-up area, Airfield ground lighting (AGL) lighting, and the associated infrastructure. We have finished the big qualifications process for the contractor, so hopefully in the few coming months we will issue the tender document for execution.”
In addition to it, HE Mohammed also highlights that they have established a new company called “Gulf Air Group Holding Company”, for which he is the chairman of the group. “Under Gulf Air Group, comes Bahrain Airport Company; the operator responsible for managing Bahrain International Airport and maximise its profits. This company is doing fantastic; In 2016, we witnessed 38% growth in profit while the year before was around 30% to 40%.”
According to HE Mohammed, in Bahrain, people heavily rely on personal cars to move from point to another, which is not sustainable, and the number of cars keeps increasing. “Building roads and highways will not solve the problem, it will just delay it but will not address the issue in a sustainable manner. So, we have a strategy at the Ministry to make sure that we provide additional mode of transportation to shift people from using their personal cars to other modes of transportation.
“The first phase was to build a bus system in Bahrain and now we have a bus network that serves most areas of Bahrain. We brought in new buses; we also brought in a new international operator – Bahrain Public Transport Company, which is a joint venture between UK-based international transport providers, National Express, and Bahrain based Ahmed Mansour Al Aali.”
The Ministry is also planning and working on a new mode of transportation, in conjunction with a Spanish consultant, IDOM, who will be responsible to carry out consultancy services for having a light rail network in Bahrain. HE Mohammed says: “We are in the study phase, so I don’t want to jump into conclusions. The deliverable of the study will tell us. We were supposed to finish the study by end of 2017 but hopefully, by end February 2018, we’ll finish the study and be able to share it with the government and take it to the execution stage.”
The Ministry is additionally in the process, together with its colleagues in Saudi Arabia, of building an additional causeway to link Bahrain with KSA, and will be part of the GCC Rail project, to have both passenger and cargo trains, as well as additional capacity for cars. HE Mohammed states: “We finished the technical and financial viability studies of the project and we are at a stage to take this project to another phase, hopefully by appointing the transaction adviser and project management.
HE Mohammed is of the opinion that the shipping industry is going through tough times, people are trying to cut costs. “We heard recently that many large companies announced their bankruptcy but I I am optimistic with what we are doing collectively in Bahrain that we’ll be able to increase the growth in our port. We have seen growth in general cargo because of the construction we have; we have projects worth $32bn that are being implemented – this affected the port and will continue to affect the port in the next three to four years.”
He also highlights that the tiny Gulf state is the most liberal when it comes to serving the ports, and when it comes to ship registration. “We have an IT platform, where people can do register their ships online from the comfort of their homes in any part of the world. It’s smooth and can easily be done; we want to simplify it for people so that they can see the difference in what we can offer.”
Bahrain is also investing in enhancing the utilisation of Bahrain Logistics Zone, which is currently more than 80% occupied. A lot of the projects are in construction stage or have opened and now expansion is in demand from the business sectors both inside and outside of Bahrain.
HE Mohammed says: “I don’t think anybody can offer this linkage between sea, air, and land transport like what we have in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia is a big market; everybody wants to serve the Saudi market, and I think Bahrain is a good gateway to serve the eastern part of Saudi Arabia.”
HE Mohammed mentions that they will soon be launching a program called “Ajwaa”, to ensure they have enough air traffic controllers and air traffic safety engineers in Bahrain. “We need more of them as many of the current ones are retiring and we want to ensure we have a lot of highly qualified and skilled workforce. They are controlling over 600,000 flights over Bahrain and GCC skies annually. They have to do their jobs and adhere to the highest standards of safety and compliance to international regulations.
“We have also, with BAC, launched the program, Tahleeq, which aims at employing fresh graduate Bahraini engineers and technicians to work with us throughout the projects, so that at a later stage they can play an important role in maintaining the new facilities at the new airport that we are building. Today, we have 40 of those fresh graduate engineers and technicians, and we’ll have an additional 20 of them soon, so a large part of the human resources development plan is being implemented.
The Ministry also works with Tamkeen to bring in graduates for a two-year program to be trained with consultants and experienced engineers, and then to be employed full time. HE Mohammed mentions: “They will be travelling abroad to see the factory acceptance test. I have a team in Florida to check on security equipment, so the team will be involved in engineering, construction, testing equipment, before we buy it for the new airport. They will participate in approving materials together with the senior staff and consultants. They are our eyes on site – by this they are accountable and will take the program more seriously.”
Find our other features, on topics such as healthcare logistics, alternate fuel sources for forklifts, and green supply chain management, in our January issue.