Why Does Doha Have Two Adjacent Airports?

Plenty of large cities around the world have two or more airports. These have often been built at different times, with larger airports introduced further from the city as aviation volume increased. They can also serve different regional areas. Doha, Qatar, is slightly unusual in that it has two large airports adjacent to each other to the southwest of the city. The new one was opened as aviation, particularly with Qatar Airways, expanded dramatically.

Aerial View of the HIA
Aerial View of the new Hamad International Airport Photo: Hamad International Airport

Opening the first airport in 1959

The first airport, Doha International Airport, opened in 1959. It replaced a third airport – Durkhan Aiport – which operated from the 1930s and was located much further from the city.

Doha International Airport initially handled other airlines serving Qatar but became the main base of Qatar Airways when it started service in 1994. Qatar Airways was founded by the royal family of Qatar and initially operated with just two Airbus A310 aircraft.

Qatar Airways A310
Qatar Airways’ first A310 (registration A7-ABA), seen here leaving London Gatwick for Doha International Airport in 1994. Photo: Dean Morley via Flickr

Qatar Airways expanded quickly. It took on the Boeing 747 in 1995, replaced it with Airbus A300 aircraft in 1997. By 2003, its fleet of A300 had grown to eight. It also started introducing a narrowbody fleet of A320 aircraft. These were initially leased, but it operated its own aircraft from 2009.

It ordered its first A380 in 2001. And in 2003, it placed an impressive $5.1 billion order with Airbus for 32 aircraft – including the A330-200, A330-300, and A340, as well as more A320s. Boeing re-joined the fleet in 2007, with an even larger $13.5 billion order for 30 787-8 aircraft and 27 777s. Fleet expansion was well underway, and with it so were plans for a new airport.

Doha International Airport
Doha International Airport, seen here with Qatar Airways’ flights in 2010. Photo: Bgabel via Wikimedia

Coping with Qatar Airways expansion

Doha International Airport had not been designed to handle this volume of traffic. It initially handled fights serving the city of Doha, with local traffic and workers for the oil and gas industry. It was not designed for the huge volume that Qatar Airways’ hub-based operating model brought with it. To put this into context, passenger volume increased from around two million in 1998 to over 20 million by 2012.

Three new terminals (including a premium terminal for Qatar Airways in 2006 and a dedicated arrivals terminal in 2010) were added, but longer-term solutions lay in a new airport.

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Qatar Airways and Hamad International Airport

Construction on a new airport began in 2005, at a site just five kilometers to the east of the original Doha International Airport. It was designed with Qatar Airways’ model very much in mind and allows for significant future expansion. It is owned by the Qatar government but operated by Qatar Airways.

Qatar Airways
Hamad International Airport is the hub for Qatar Airways. Photo: Getty Images

After several delays, it opened for passenger service on April 30th 2014 (cargo operations began a few months earlier). Other airlines moved across first, with Qatar Airways shifting flights fully on May 27th. Doha International Airport closed to commercial flights from then but has continued to be used by the Air Force and some private companies. Qatar Executive, with its fleet of private Gulfstream and Bombardier jets is based there, but operates from both airports.

Qatar Gulfstream G650
Qatar executive with its fleet including the Gulfstream G650 is based at Doha International Airport. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia

Hamad International Aiport has since been expanded further, with two additional passenger concourses. Further expansion is planned to be completed in 2022, with a new central concourse between concourse D and E, with a garden and retail area similar to Singapore Changi Airport’s Jewel development.

Aerial View of the HIA
The old airport can be seen to the west of the new Hamad International Airport. Photo: Hamad International Airport

Re-opening the old airport

Despite the opening of Hamad International Airport, Doha International Airport has never closed. Commercial flights flights ceased in 2014, but the airport remained open.

Plans are underway to re-open it for flights as part of Qatar’s plans for the 2022 World Cup. It will most likely be used for private flights rather than commercial airlines. Expansion at Hamad International Airport also has the World Cup in mind.

Have you used either of Doha’s airports? Feel free to discuss more in the comments.