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Take flight at amazing airport
The modern city of Doha. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Just reeling off the statistics for the New Doha International Airport is impressive.

The $15.5 billion airport is due to open in December and is designed to handle 24 million people a year.

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More than 50 per cent of the 22,000ha site was reclaimed from the sea, but in water mainly between 6m and 8m deep, and on bedrock. Some 8900 piles have been driven into the ground and 87,600 tonnes of crushed rock used.

At its peak last December, 47,000 people were working on the project, which started in 2004.

They have used 140,000 tonnes of steel and installed 17,000km of electric cable. Its kitchens can produce 90,000 meals a day.

NDIA has two runways. One is 4.8km long so that a double-decker A380 can take off fully loaded in the hottest month, August, when a plane needs a greater "run-up" to lift in the warm air.

The other is 4.2km long.

Those two runways are 2km apart, which not only means that two planes can take off simultaneously, but also gives some sense of the scale of the project.

There are 42 gates to which planes can pull up, including six that can handle A380s.

Its hangar can hold up to 13 planes of different types at any one time, and five planes can move in and out at the same time.

And NDIA can handle 1.4 million tonnes of cargo a year.

At the heart of the project is the NDIA steering committee, which brings decision-makers together, and where decisions are made quickly and decisively. It is led by Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker.

Qatar is not only the richest country in the world per capita, but an absolute monarchy ruled by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Qatar Airways will manage the new airport.

An artist's drawing of the New Doha International Airport. Supplied picture

Yes, reeling off statistics is impressive. But to do just that would be to miss the point, because NDIA is about the human experience, and it is quite beautiful.

A spokesman for the NDIA team (a young French architect responsible for quality assurance, but who asks to remain nameless here, because he feels it is a team effort) shows me around.

"They wanted everything that was the best quality," he says, agreeing that it is an unusual brief in the cost-conscious modern world. They wanted the best quality design and material selection."

The main architecture firms are French for the separate Emiri and VVIP (very, very important people) terminal, to which planes can pull up, with an orchestra playing, and American for the main terminal building. Italian design companies have been involved in the interior.

The Emiri terminal - in sail-like concrete panels set like the open segments of an orange - is exquisitely fitted with curved glass panels, cast-iron sheets and LED lights set in laminated glass.

Its rooms are quiet thanks to acoustic panels "to prevent cacophony". And it is all set at the end of a curving private avenue lined with date palms.

"Because the land is reclaimed, it allows the architect to play with the landscape," the spokesman says.

The main terminal, business and first-class passengers head to separate check-ins - in first class, passengers will sit in an individual booth, and there isn't even a conveyor belt to put bags on, just someone to take them.

The business class is of similarly stunning architecture and finish.

But let us walk through the economy flyer areas which, after all, are where most people will be.

The check-in counters are made of onyx, a semi-precious agate.

There are big walls of thin agate stone, backlit to show the rock's colours and panel.

Under a 24m-high roof, the curving ceiling of timber veneer panels has skylights with glass inserts which dapple the light falling on the floor, rather like that in a forest.

The epoxy terrazzo floor is Italian - in fact, the Italian manufacturer sent its own specialist to lay it. Everywhere, there are quality materials and detail. One curving wall, also of Italian stone, shows a continuous strata - the rock was cut out of the ground in this curve.

Above, behind the delicate grey curves of concealing panels, Swiss-designed and built trains will take passengers the length of the concourse on a pulley rail system, vibration passed not into the building, but into the ground through separate pillars.

Acoustic panels also dampen sound in this massive area.

NDIA is designed as a transit airport but it is not inconceivable that people wanting to pause during a journey will do so here.

Rather than connect straight through, this place might be beautiful and relaxing enough to delay by one flight, and draw breath here.

There is also a 100-room short-stay hotel.

Near this our spokesman suddenly smiles and says: "Look up. That is our swimming pool."

It is in the air, in the middle of the hall, but private.

For those just wanting to get places, a special fast-track service will be offered which will give connections of 30 to 45 minutes.

Most airports put far more effort into departure areas than arrivals areas - for obvious reasons, because this is where passengers spend longer.

But the NDIA team also had the brief to concentrate on arrivals.

"First impressions are important," the spokesman says.

But an investment in quality can also pay off long-term, and it will be interesting to see the airport in four years time, when almost 100 million people may have passed through. One suspects that it will still look "fresh".

And there is another phase to follow, which will increase the capacity to 48 million people a year, and an airport city on the drawing board to follow.

But, for all the massive numbers, it still comes back to the individual, human experience.

The spokesman says: "Qatar Airways is very particular about service, and you see this in the design path of the airport.

"I have been in airports for 14 years, including the new Changi in Singapore, but I have never been in a project where quality means as much as schedule.

"It's fantastic."