The influx of airport development programmes in the Middle East is set to revolutionise the region's aviation industry. However, with the grand scale of projects such as Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, what are the key factors in ensuring the successful management of airport construction?
Reflecting the immense growth in regional air traffic, many of the Middle East's airports are undergoing major expansion and modernisation plans to enhance their facilities in this increasingly competitive market.
Effective construction management and planning are crucial to the success of any airport expansion, particularly to ensure that developments run to schedule and avoid any potential loss of revenue to the management company.
Whilst some contributing factors leading to delay can be beyond the airport's control, stringent and meticulous planning and management is imperative to ensure a smooth construction process from start to finish.
One of the major Middle East airports currently undergoing an extensive US$6.8 billion development and expansion programme is Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Managed under the watchful eye of SCADIA (supervision committee for the expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport), a team of consultants including planners, programme managers, aviation specialists and designers, have been brought together to put into action the visionary masterplan of the airport's expansion.
From October 2006 to April 2007 the facility successfully completed two additional terminals as a quick interim solution to its burgeoning air traffic volume. "We have already delivered a fast track full terminal - T2 in record time, six months," states Graham Bland, project director for SCADIA."
Terminal 3, which will cater for an additional 5 million passengers, will be opened in stages.
"We are avoiding the big bang approach of Heathrow Terminal 5 and have chosen a steady approach, with a number of gates opening within a month or two," adds Andrew Chupeau, senior media officer at Abu Dhabi Airports Company.
The third terminal, dedicated for the national carrier Etihad Airways, is expected to be fully operational by October 2008.
Further plans are in progress to build a mega Midfield Terminal Complex, due to become operational at the end of 2010, which promises to boost the airport's capacity to around 20 million passengers and more.
SCADIA's Bland identifies several key aspects that have contributed to the success of the region's airport expansion to date. "Continuous government support is one of the factors, as is having a strategic vision and direction," he says.
"The delegation of the day to day decision making to the project director, with financial authority and autonomy under a controlled procedure, is also important."
Indeed, the clear designation of roles and responsibilities is at the heart of successful airport development in order to avoid some of the usual pitfalls leading to costly delays in construction.
Many of the Middle East airports have learnt from the experiences of other major airports throughout the world, and are applying these progressive ways of working to their own projects.
"We need to develop partnerships with contractors, rather than have the traditional owner-contractor working relationships," stipulates Bland.
"Creating a risk free contracting structure such as that implemented for Heathrow Terminal 5, for example, can also help to avoid delays. By adopting a transparent and strict PQ process, the airport development can ensure the most capable contractors become prime contractors, and that they have accountability for their involvement."
Ensuring the quality and accountability of contractors and suppliers involved in the airport construction project becomes even more important due to the numbers of different parties involved in the whole process.
Infact, as Thomas Widegren, regional manager and executive chairman of Cavotec Middle East, points out, delays and setbacks in airport construction can occur when too many parties are involved in a particular process.
"The fewer parties the better," he emphasises. "There can be too many parties involved in making decisions, when it's better to let the end user and the manufacturers discuss the matter. The manufacturer has the advantage of local technical support and service, while a supplier should have obligations towards the supply and end users."
Cavotec Middle East, a major global manufacturer of aircraft support equipment, is one of the key players contracted by airports and airlines to supply ground support equipment in the region.
The company has undertaken many projects in the airports of both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including providing all the ground services for the Emirates Hangars, the 400Hz supply into all gates within Concourse 1 and inside the Royal Wing apron parking in Abu Dhabi.
The company has completed installation of all the gates inside Concourse 2 of Dubai International Airport. In line with the region's ambitious airport development plans, the order to supply the ground support equipment for the Emirates Engineering Hangar at Dubai International Airport has been the company's single largest hangar order to date in the Middle East.
Cavotec systems are also to be installed at several different hangar projects, including the Amiri Flight Hangar in Abu Dhabi.
As a manufacturer, Widegren asserts that the key to the effective management of airport construction lies within enhancing co-operation and professional understanding between the different parties involved. "There is a need to co-operate with professional manufacturers and understand the technical demands of today and tomorrow," he explains.
In particular, difficulties can arise when there is a lack of technical understanding between the specialist supplier and other parties who may not be so well versed in the particular equipment being used.
As a supplier of specialised ground support equipment providing power, water and pre-conditioned air for aircraft parked in hangars or on the tarmac, the company has experienced this problem first-hand.
"Cavotec, for example, is asking to have a contractor role as we know our products and can provide proper warranty and guarantees. Many Middle East contractors may have no understanding of PCAir, water and 400Hz aircraft supplies," Widegren elaborates.
"For example, the PCAir is very sensitive and has to be handled carefully, with the inside of the hose protected from condensation."
Other essential ground support services, such as the 'Turn Around Timings' are, in Widegren's opinion, an often neglected part of the process. "Providing new systems which can guarantee to help reduce the 'Turn Around Timings' is not even discussed," he complains.
Other possible technical solutions, such as the underground installations or tunnels under the aircraft already successfully implemented in several airports, also need to be considered, he adds.
So what measures are needed to ensure that the many different parties involved in the whole process of airport construction work together effectively in the smooth coming together of the entire airport development, and avoid getting behind schedule?
For what is planned to be the world's largest airport, Al Maktoum International Airport (JXB), meticulous forward-planning is at the heart of the management for this huge development.
The masterplan for the overall facility has been designed by the Dar Al Handasah group, which has managed the vision of the entire project within its own realistic timescale.
"This is a multi-phase, multi-year project and so there is not a rush to build," explains Khalifa Al Zaffin, director of engineering and projects, Dubai Department of Civil Aviation, government of Dubai and project director, Dubai World Central.
"It is a properly thought out development aimed at complementing the existing airport and ensuring that a whole community is built around JXB."
Likewise the airport's master plan has also been designed to forward-plan, taking into account the needs of the region to 2050 and beyond.
"The masterplan had to take several considerations into account - environment, safety, land use, accessibility, roads and infrastructure, actual construction, distance from the city centre, labour accommodation for easy access to project site, and so forth," adds Al Zaffin.
For such a huge project, Al Maktoum International Airport has reported that progress is successfully on track.
This includes the passenger and cargo terminal, the air traffic control tower, storm drainage and sewerage systems and CUCs, and the first 4.5 kilometre A-380 enabled CAT-III runway which was completed in November 2007.
Al Zaffin is more nonchalant about delays in construction, believing them to be an inevitable outcome of the fast-paced development in the Middle East. "In a region that has witnessed such unprecedented growth, delays in construction will be inevitable," he asserts.
"But this is not because of inefficiency but of the huge demand for civil engineering needs, both in terms of infrastructure and human resources. We have to overcome each challenge as it comes across us."
In terms of effectively managing airport construction, those challenges can be overcome through a well-scheduled, thought-out planning process which takes into account the possible setbacks which may occur, whether it be problems between different parties involved in the construction, government red-tape, or over ambitious timescales, and puts the measures in place to avoid them, before they happen.
Networking for success
Nurturing better understanding between the different parties involved in the complicated airport construction process is one of the aims of the Airport Show, the largest exhibition for airport construction, equipment, technology and services in Asia.
Now in its eighth year, the event began as the pre-qualification of suppliers to Dubai International Airports' expansion in 2001 and now caters to over US$60 billion worth of airport expansion across the Middle East, Africa and Indian subcontinent.
Bringing together buyers, vendors, consultants and systems integrators from all sectors of airports, airlines and ground service companies, last year's event alone attracted an international audience of over 5000 delegates from across the aviation industry.
Commenting on the 2007 Airport Show, Nicholas Webb, director of the event, organised by Streamline Marketing Group says: "The show had a fantastic response. Everyone wanted to be involved, and the suppliers we had covered everything from construction, interiors, architecture and so on. Some participants even commented that if you came here you could possibly build an airport from scratch."
With one of the major factors contributing to airport development delays being the lack of understanding and communication between the different parties involved, the forum believes it has a key role to play in bringing all those involved for the sharing of ideas, and better understanding of their respective roles in the whole picture.
"We were surprised at how successful the forum was in itself last year," Webb admits.
"Different airport operators, contractors and suppliers, different teams within the airports, all were present and discussing projects together."
Webb maintains that sharing information is key to the success for airport construction in the area.
With the event covering such a wide global area, including the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Africa and even the Far East, the event provides opportunities for airport operators to share and learn from each other's developments in the region.
"For all airport infrastructure parties, it provides a forum to see what other airports are doing successfully, and take from that," explains Webb.
"In many ways, this can be a catalyst for different types of contractors, as well as the airports themselves, to feed into their planning processes."
The growing recognition of events such as the Airport Show in the region is now attracting larger audiences - with the show itself growing by around 40% per year.
As the airport construction business continues to ride high in the coming years, those who are best networked and kept informed of developments in the industry will also be best placed to ensure a successfully managed airport development project.