The chief executive of Qatar airways, Akbar al-Baqr, told a news conference at the Dubai air show that construction companies will soon be able to bid for more than $2.5 billion worth of tenders for the first phase of Qatar's new signature airport.

He said phase one with a capacity of 12 million passengers a year would be completed in 2008.

The new airport "needs to set new standards and needs to be more than an ordinary transfer point but part of a fantastic travel experience," said al-Baker, whose company operates the current airport.

"The new airport needs to set new standards and needs to be more than an ordinary transfer point but part of a fantastic travel experience"

Akbar al-Baqr
Chief Executive
Qatar Airways

The plan for the 2,200 hectare (8.5 square mile) airport was drawn up by US engineering giant Bechtel. It calls for a large area of land to be reclaimed from the sea and the construction of two parallel runways and 25 contact gates.

Al- Baker said a second phase which would lift the airport's capacity to 50 million passengers a year would by completed by 2015.

Growing economy

He said Qatar's ambitions were backed by the emirate's growing economy -- it boasts the world's third largest natural gas reserves -- and aviation market.

The airline executive played down a plan by neighbouring Dubai to spend four billion dollars to expand its airport to handle annual traffic of about 30 million passengers by 2010 and more than 60 million by 2020.

Dubai hosted the International
Air Show in December  

"Dubai has a different strategy and we have a different strategy," he said. He claimed Qatar would be targeting a different segment of the aviation market than Dubai but refused to provide details. 

There were no figures on current passenger traffic at Qatar's airport, although Qatar Airways said it expected to carry 3.3 million passengers in 2003 -- 30 percent more than its 2.3 million customers the year before.

Qatar Airways, founded in 1994 and owned equally by Qatar's government and private investors, flies to 46 destinations in Europe, the Indian subcontinent, Middle East and North Africa.

It operates an all-Airbus fleet of 27 aircraft, but plans to increase it to 52 in the next five years. In June it signed a $5.1 billion order for 34 new Airbus jets.