Dawn of a new era - New Islamabad airport finally set to open and deliver step change to the airport experience in Pakistan's capital city

1 May, 2018

The new Islamabad International Airport, the new primary international gateway to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, is scheduled to commence operations on 03-May-2018, Liaquat Ali Khan International Airport will replace Islamabad’s existing Benazir Bhutto International Airport at an estimated development cost of PRK81 billion (USD796.2 million). It has been under construction for five years. Once the new international airport is operational, Benazir Bhutto Airport will be used for military and private operations.


  • The New Islamabad Airport is set to open following five years of construction;
  • Compared to the Benazir Bhutto airport that it will replace, Liaquat Ali Khan International is a “state of the art” facility that will almost quadruple capacity in Islamabad;
  • It is one of several airports that could have been privatised by the Pakistan government, but security considerations over-ruled that possibility.

The capital airport is the largest in the country, having “state-of-the-art” equipment and technology. Initially, nine million passengers will transit through the airport annually. The airport’s ultimate capacity is 25 million passengers per annum. According to the CAPA - Centre for Aviation airport profiles, the Benazir Bhutto Airport had a system capacity of just over seven million seats in 2017.

CHART - Islamabad Benazir Bhutto International Airport has seen annual capacity grow at double-digit year-over-year rates the past three years - +11.2% in 2015, +10.2% in 2016 and +11.3% in 2017Source: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG

The new airport has two runways and can handle aircraft such as the Airbus A380. It has three rapid exit taxiways which will help aircraft immediately vacate the runway after landing. At the old airport, large aircraft took around five minutes to backtrack and vacate the runway which not only caused delays in the arrival and departure of succeeding aircraft, but caused extra fuel consumption. Moreover, the old airport had only one runway, whereas the new airport has two runways, of 3675m x 60m and 3765m x 75m.

If the main runway is out of operation owing to an emergency, the secondary runway can be used for the landing of aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 777. With two runways, maintenance work can also be executed more efficiently.

The old airport has 11 stands but the new one has 33 aircraft stands which include 15 bays with passenger boarding bridge facilities. Pre-conditioned air and pop up pits have also been provided at aircraft stands. The new airport has five aprons including an exclusive facility for the parking of three cargo aircraft.

CHART - Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto Airport handled a cargo volume of 215 million kilograms of freight in 2017, its highest level and up +1.1% on the previous year's performanceSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG

The new airport also has an LED airfield lighting system with advanced visibility at night-time for navigation besides reducing electricity usage and the maintenance cost of the airport, it will also conserve energy. The Benazir Bhutto Airport did not have a lighting system of this sophistication.

The main runway 28L is equipped with instrument landing system (ILS) Category 3. Elsewhere in Pakistan, only Lahore Airport is equipped with this system. In the Southeast Asia region, after Delhi and Lahore Airport, Islamabad International Airport will be the third airport to have this system.

A newly-installed primary and secondary radar provides better surveillance of aircraft up to 100 nautical mile and 250 nautical mile ranges respectively. Air traffic control also houses modern air traffic management systems and facilities inside a 45m high ATC tower. Two fire stations are equipped with fire vehicles and other resources: three fire tenders, 32,300 litres of water, and 1,000kg of foam to meet a response time of two to three minutes as per the international standard for the emergency of aircraft up to A380 size at, or in the vicinity of, the airport.

The airport has 70 international check-in counters and 32 domestic check-in counters compared to 25 international counters and 20 domestic counters at the Bhutto airport. Baggage throughput of the belts in the international departure is 5,500 bags per hour and in international arrivals it is 6,000 bags per hour. This baggage handling system also has the latest standard three baggage scan machines as per international standards.

Compared to 600 car parking positions, the new airport will accommodate 2,200 car parking spaces with nine exit and entry points. An area of 84,365 sq m has also been fixed for the future development of a maintenance repair overhaul (MRO) facility at new airport.

Shaheen Air International was one of the first to confirm operations at the new airport from 03-May-2018, and will run all flights to and from Islamabad through the new airport.

New Islamabad one of three airports that could have been privatised but security risks predominate. The country’s Federal Cabinet considered plans to privatise three major airports at a meeting held in Apr-2017. The CAA published an RFP to outsource the operation, management and development of New Islamabad International Airport, also Lahore Allama Iqbal International Airport, and Jinnah International Airport.

Later in the year, in Oct-2017, the High Court at Lahore extended a stay on proceedings for the privatisation of Lahore Allama Iqbal International Airport after hearing a petition claiming the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) plans to award concession rights for the airport to a foreign operator pose risks to national security. The Pakistan Government and PCAA legal representatives asserted that plans for privatisation of Lahore and two other major airports have been shelved.