Hamad International Airport finally opened its runways to flights on April 30 — more than a year after its first attempt at a soft launch was canceled.

Built to eventually replace the aging and inadequate Doha International Airport, Hamad International welcomed its first flight — a Qatar Airways Airbus A320 carrying the minister of transport, the board members of the steering committee of NDIA and other delegates — under a water cannon salute shortly before midday. A FlyDubai Boeing 737 carrying the first fare-paying passengers followed, coincidentally, after a delay.

Like most of the neighboring Gulf emirate states, Qatar has experienced a massive growth in aviation as its homegrown airline, Qatar Airways, grew rapidly by offering connecting flights between East and West through its Doha hub. However, Doha International Airport has long been inadequate for the number of passengers using it, and for the ambitions of the airline that competes fiercely with Emirates and Etihad.

Only 3 miles from the old airport, construction of Hamad International began in 2005 and was originally touted for a 2009 opening, but has been continually delayed. Only a few hours before last year's April 2 soft launch, important safety concerns were raised that led to an indefinite delay, which has ultimately taken more than an extra year.

Despite this, the airport was able to welcome its first cargo flights from December 2013, and a number of other aircraft — including the Airbus A350XWB — have been involved in testing the runways.

Hamad International Airport
Hamad International Airport is located just 3 miles from Doha International Airport in Qatar.

That a new airport was needed has never been in question. Doha International could barely cope with its 12 million passengers per year, with most being bused to their aircraft on remote stands. This was an embarrassment for Qatar Airways when compared to facilities at Dubai. So what makes the new facility stand out from the crowd now that its doors have opened?

Hamad is designed specifically to cater to the largest aircraft. It has two long runways — both well over 4,000 meters in length — and eight A380 gates among the 65 contact gates across its three concourses.

Once the enormous 6.5 million-square-foot terminal comes into full operation later this month, it will boast 16 lounges, 26 art installations, a transit hotel, a 500-capacity mosque, a swimming pool and a spa.

Initially, 10 airlines have made the switch to the new airport for the soft launch, which will no doubt test the capabilities of all aspects of the facility. When Qatar Airways makes the switch May 27, it will need to be ready to deliver on a much larger scale, and drive the growth and passenger experience further than has ever been available in Qatar.

"HIA will be a source of pride and joy for all people of Qatar for many decades to come," said H.E. Mr. Abdul Aziz Mohammad Al-Noaimi, chairman of the NDIA Steering Committee. "It will deliver a memorable experience to all passengers that will travel through its gates; an experience that reflects Qatar's status and importance on the world travel and tourism map."