Islamabad’s new international airport, whose bill was reportedly partially footed by Beijing and which was built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), is all set for operation after a smooth trial run last Saturday in which a Pakistan International Airlines passenger plane touched down on one of the two runways.
The project was awarded in 2011 to a joint venture of the state-owned Chinese contractor and Pakistani firms through an international tendering process.
With a 180,000-square-meter, 15-gate terminal made up of components prefabricated in China and riveted and welded together onsite, the airport will be able to handle 9 million passengers and 80,000 tons of cargo per annum, People’s Daily reported, citing a CSCEC official.
The terminal is also home to a four-star hotel, duty-free shops, a food court and 42 immigration counters.
The new airport will be able to service major wide-body aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and A350 as well as Boeing 747-8 airliners.
Construction of a third runway has also been awarded to a consortium led by the Chinese builder.
Karachi-based English-language newspaper The Express Tribune reported in April 2017 that the new airport would be named after Chinese President Xi Jinping, citing a source privy to the office of the Pakistani prime minister as saying that it was the then-PM “Nawaz Sharif’s own decision” to honor Xi and hail the brotherhood between the two nations.
But later a Pakistani aviation official refuted the report as an April Fool’s Day prank and said the airport would be named after the nation’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan.
The Pakistani prime minister’s aviation adviser, Mehtab Khan, has told China Central Television that Pakistan would kickstart construction of another massive airport this year to serve the southern port city of Gwadar to propel the city toward becoming the nation’s trade hub.
A CSCEC representative said on the same CCTV program that the future Gwadar airport would be larger than the new airport in the Pakistani capital. He also dismissed rumors that have appeared in Pakistani and Indian papers that the plethora of Chinese construction projects in the country would serve any military purpose.
Earlier, international media and news agencies including Reuters reported that Beijing was revving up construction of a naval and submarine base in Gwadar that would become the second overseas outpost of the People’s Liberation Army after a base in the East African nation of Djibouti.
Since 2015, Pakistani authorities have leased out large chunks of land along the coastline of the strategically located port city that faces the Arabian Sea to CSCEC and other Chinese state-owned enterprises for 40 years for port and transport developments worth US$10 billion.
Through railways and pipelines running all the way up north to the Pakistani border close to China’s Xinjiang autonomous region, the Gwadar port provides an alternative route to Beijing’s oil imports from the Middle East.