Planning for the 21st Century

Posted: 25 November 2005 | Hanan Sayed Worrell, Manager of projects, SCADIA | No comments yet

Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will soon deliver a massive expansion of airport capacity with far less difficulty and in a more cost-effective manner than other comparable airports in the region and around the world.

Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will soon deliver a massive expansion of airport capacity with far less difficulty and in a more cost-effective manner than other comparable airports in the region and around the world.

Through a combination of foresight and timely intervention, Abu Dhabi, one of the fastest growing economies in the Middle East, will not face the daunting prospect of relocating and building a new airport to guarantee capacity for the 21st century.

Driven by the wealth of its oil and gas resources, this powerhouse of the United Arab Emirates has embarked on an ambitious strategy of diversifying its sources of income by increasing tourism and stimulating trade and investment. The expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport (ADIA) forms one of the cornerstones of this strategy.

The plan for the redevelopment of ADIA, estimated at USD 6.8 billion, is based on a phased implementation of facilities and addresses the needs of the rapidly growing Emirate. It takes into account the long-term demand for passenger air traffic and cargo, as well as for all other airport business sectors (such as maintenance). It also provides a crucial platform for the growth of the new national carrier, Etihad Airways, established in 2003. In addition, the plan sets aside land for revenue-generating aviation-related facilities, which would further leverage the investment in the airport and transportation infrastructure.

Master plan development

US-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), with Leigh Fischer Associates, were appointed in November 2004 to develop the master plan for ADIA. The completed plan allows passenger traffic to grow beyond 40 million passengers per annum and more than two million tons of cargo. The plan follows a sound and comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of the Emirate, within an integrated physical framework and a basis for the phased implementation of facilities over time.

To oversee the airport’s complex redevelopment program and ensure its effective implementation, the Abu Dhabi Government established a dedicated entity, the Supervision Committee for the Expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport (SCADIA). SCADIA’s main role is to integrate the strategic objectives with the planning requirements of all stakeholders and agencies, and to deliver the fast-track design, construction and commissioning of the phased development program. Previous expansion plans for ADIA, under design in recent years, have been superseded by the new master plan and formation of SCADIA.

History and growth

Abu Dhabi’s first international airport was built in the 1960s in the Al Batten area. With the continuing prosperity and rapid growth of the Emirate, Al-Bateen airport was closed and the existing international airport was put into operation in 1982. Located approximately 30 km east of Abu Dhabi City, at a major national crossroads on the UAE road network, the airport was designed for a capacity of 3.5 million passengers per annum, covering an area of 1700 hectares. However ADIA was planned with an additional 1700 hectare land bank to the north, which now makes a three-fold expansion of the operational areas possible with minimal disruption.

The existing passenger terminal at the airport, with 11 contact gates and 5 remote stands, has been running at full capacity with year-on-year growth of 20 percent since 2001. It is anticipated that the total number of passengers will near 6 million a year by the end of 2005. The launch of Etihad Airways in 2003, the Emirate’s own national carrier, is expected to fuel continued growth as the airline takes delivery of 32 wide body aircraft between 2006 and 2008, and stimulates further air traffic by introducing additional routes to its world wide network. By 2010 Etihad Airways plans to have 50 wide body aircraft flying to nearly 70 destinations from its base at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Transitional challenges

The scope of the master plan recognises that ADIA, the gateway to the nation’s capital and home to a nascent national carrier, is at a critical point in its development. As it changes from a relatively small airport (5 million passengers per annum) to a medium/large airport (more than 20 million passengers per annum) change will be experienced on several fronts:

  • From a city role to a regional role.
  • From a feeder airport to a hub for Etihad Airways.
  • From infrastructure to an economic and commercial asset.
  • From a series of expansion projects to an integrated development program.

As with many international airports the choices for such a transition are either to expand incrementally within the constraints of the existing airport, such as Heathrow or Dubai, or undertake a new capital airport, such as at Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Seoul. As a statement of regional status and social identity, it is easier to achieve both functional efficiency and aesthetics in the scale and form of the development with the latter option. ADIA is fortunate to be able to undertake this large-scale expansion of the scale planned on land directly contiguous to the existing airport, thus safeguarding previous investments, providing ultimate flexibility, and creating the opportunity for a new iconic gateway development.

One of the more pressing aspects of ADIA’s transition is also the urgent need to provide short-term capacity relief compatible with the master plan’s long term vision, and to accommodate the new generation aircraft A380-800, which is expected to commence operations in early 2008 at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Anticipating the Future

To determine the extent of the redevelopment program the master plan process was founded on robust projections of long term demand forecasts. This posed a challenge for the master plan team, given the nature of a nascent national carrier and a lack of representative historical information. The forecasting effort yielded two projections: the Base Case High, which tracks GDP and the Etihad Base Case High, based on Etihad Airways fleet acquisition, route development and response by other airlines. These trend lines differ considerable, which poses a significant issue in terms of planning the implementation program.

The planners therefore adopted the concept of Planning Activity Levels (PALs) to phase the facilities requirements. The PAL concept is, in theory, independent of calendar years and is based on a certain activity level (say 20 million passengers per annum) requiring a given set of facilities. The ADIA master plan is organised into PALs which correspond to the major phases of the program implementation.

Based on this ‘living master plan’ ADIA will ensure that facilities do not fall short of the required demand and that the capacity can be increased or limited incrementally.

A transforming vision

The ADIA Master Plan is intended to achieve a long-term objective to allow growth of all of the airport business for the next 25-30 years, and then the ultimate capacity of the airport, as well as address the future land uses in the vicinity. The planners were given relatively few fixed conditions, virtually ‘blue sky’ optioneering was encouraged. Given the urgent need to provide additional capacity at ADIA, two urgent requirements existed: (1) to identify the location of the second runway and (2); to identify the location of the expanded passenger terminal.

The study and analysis of the various options yielded a superior master plan with facilities to be developed in phases, on a cost-effective basis and will be economically sustainable.

New runway and airfield

One of the first projects underway is the second 4, 100-meter long runway, designed to cater for all anticipated aircraft, including the new A380. The new runway and airfield will be constructed 2,000 meters north and parallel to the existing runway, to ensure that the two-runway system can support simultaneous independent mixed mode operations. The separation also enables the greatest possible capacity gain from the second runway.

The two-runway system can cater for 60-80 million passengers per year. It also requires the construction of a new 110 metre ATC Tower, which will be a prominent feature in the middle of the airfield. The runways are flanked by dual parallel taxiways sized for Code F aircraft. Reserves for at least two sets of dual cross taxiways, also sized for Code F aircraft, are provided to link the two runways.

Midfield passenger terminal

The widely spaced two-runway system will allow a new passenger terminal complex and other structures to be built in the midfield between the two runways. The area set aside for the terminal and piers development is large enough for three major terminals. The master plan includes preliminary studies for passenger facilities to cater for 40/50 million passengers per year, with further land reserves. The new passenger terminal building and aprons can be developed for between 100 and 150 positions, depending on the aircraft size and terminal configuration. The broad midfield terminal area allows a complete range of terminal layouts. The master plan team studied a number of options not only to validate the size of the reserve, but to assure that the area could support a range of terminal typologies.

Cargo, maintenance and support facilities

Cargo facilities will expand in the new east midfield area with enough land to meet the anticipated strong growth in this sector. Approximately 1 million sq. meters of land near the new cargo facilities will be allocated for Free Trade Zones. Aircraft Maintenance facilities will continue to operate at the existing GAMCO area in the southern side of the airport, but contiguous land for new facilities will be added south of the existing runway, New and expanded support facilities will also be constructed in the new midfield – such as In-Flight Catering facilities and ground support equipment facilities.

Special and general aviation

Special and general aviation operators will be allocated an expansion area to meet their future needs, contiguous to their existing locations for the initial phases. Rotary wing operations will eventually relocate to the north side of the airfield in order not to impede commercial air traffic growth.

Collateral development

A significant aspect of the new airport master plan is the allocation of buffer areas to the north and south of the airport. These areas permit compatible uses and revenue-generating leisure and commercial development, while minimising the impact on local residential communities. In addition, an ‘Airport City’ business park, intended primarily for aviation related business, is planned in the midfield.


The first phase of the multi-billion dollar expansion program at ADIA, due to be commissioned in 2010/2011, is being designed for Planning Activity Level (PAL) 2, that is 20 million passengers per annum. This phase is well underway with the design of the second parallel runway completed by UK based Halcrow International Partnership. Tenders for construction are to be issued November 2005 to a short list of international contractors. Rough grading and site preparation at the second runway site are on target to be completed by early next year in time to handover to the successful runway contractor.

The centerpiece of the first phase of the program is the new midfield passenger terminal complex. An international design competition is currently underway for the 375,000 sq.mbuilding. Four architectural firms, short-listed from 16 international firms, have submitted their design proposals. A panel of aviation experts and international airport operators/owners has been assembled to evaluate the competition entries.

Similarly, design concepts have been received from four architectural firms for the ATC complex, which is required to be operational shortly after the completion of the second runway. The supply and integration of the air navigation systems are also part of this package.

While implementing the initial phase of the master plan, the development at ADIA had to resolve the current and near-term capacity shortfalls at the existing facilities, both in terms of passengers and cargo by developing a number of interim facilities. With unprecedented speed, Terminal 2 at ADIA was designed, constructed and brought into operation on 10 August 2005 in a period of only six months. Terminal 2 and modifications at the existing terminal have provided an additional capacity of 3 million passengers per annum.

Additionally, nine wide body remote aircraft stands, with 2 dedicated to the A380-800, were also constructed near the existing terminal in order to relieve congestion at peak periods. A further interim facility is currently being designed to provide a dedicated pier and terminal processor for Etihad Airways, contiguous to the existing terminal building. These interim facilities are expected to address the needs of the various entities at the airport until the completion of the midfield facilities in 2010/2011.

Financing initiatives

The initial phase of the development will see the involvement of the private sector both in terms of financing and operations. This approach is a major departure for local government, which has not previously sought commercial financing for infrastructure projects outside the power and water sector. Financial consultants have been appointed to investigate options for the expansion, which includes partial privatisation and the evaluation of debt finance options.

The private sector is expected to participate in the revenue generating components of the master plan development. The government will fund the remaining infrastructure components of the master plan, such as the airfield, landside access routes and associated utilities.

Protecting the environment

The development at ADIA has not been at the expense of the environment.

A detailed environmental survey identified a population of approximately 250 spiny-tailed agamids (dhubs), on the site of the new runway and midfield facilities. The dhub is a protected species in the UAE. A major wildlife rescue operation was therefore organised in June 2005 to capture and trans-locate the dhubs to new habitats.

The ongoing phases of the environmental study and base line survey also include noise and air quality monitoring, as well as a hydrological study, traffic flow analysis and compliance monitoring of the contractors’ environmental management plans.

The timely intervention of Abu Dhabi’s Government has set a transforming vision for ADIA’s master plan, that will provide the UAE’s capital city with a world class airport. As the capital city expands, ADIA will stand at the center of the greater metropolitan area, and in a strategic position along the coastal corridor development of the UAE, thus providing convenient access to this vital link to the region and the rest of the world.

Hanan Worrell

Hanan Worrell has over fifteen years experience managing engineering and construction projects. As Manager of Projects for SCADIA, Ms Worrell is a key member of the in-house project management team responsible for the planning, design, construction, commissioning, operational readiness and overall management of the multi billion dollar redevelopment program of ADIA.

Send this to a friend