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Cleared for take-off: managing projects in the middle east.

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Abu Dhabi Airports owns five airports in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The jewel in its crown is Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), one of the fastest-growing airport hubs in the world, currently serving 97 destinations in 56 countries.
In 2014, 20 million passengers passed through the airport – a 20 per cent increase on 2013. To meet surging demand, Abu Dhabi Airports has embarked on an ambitious expansion strategy. Central to this is the construction of the Midfield Terminal Building (MTB).

The 700,000m2 complex will include the world’s largest baggage-handling system, cargo and catering facilities, utilities and related infrastructure. The MTB will become the primary gateway for passengers travelling through Abu Dhabi and the future home of Etihad Airways. Due for completion in 2017, the MTB is central to the long-term success of the aviation sector in the Emirate.

With 20,000 people working on the construction, the scale of the project demands accurate budgets, a strict schedule and proactive management of any risks. Turner & Townsend was appointed to deliver cost estimating, scheduling and risk management services to this major programme.

Setting up the delivery

One of the greatest challenges of the programme is its complexity. It’s not just a construction scheme, it’s a systems integration delivery that sits inside a single building, with a central space that could hold three full-sized football pitches. Such an undertaking requires vast amounts of data and interfaces.

Combining all those threads into a coherent whole meant providing clear, concise information to support investment decisions, helping Abu Dhabi Airports to progress with confidence and ensuring that both costs and risks were proactively identified and managed.

Creating the gateway process

The complex nature of the programme means that Turner & Townsend assisted in other areas to include project controls, commercial management, contract administration and project-level scheduling – as well as the ongoing building information modelling and consultancy on the development gateway process. The gateway process was another key challenge. In conjunction with the client, we supported the development of collaborative working to instil a standardised approach and consistent delivery, ensuring that the project is ready to proceed to the next stage by having controls at each gateway to improve visibility of scope, cost and time targets – with approval from all key stakeholders.

We established a common way of doing things across a diverse supply chain, across cultures and in an environment where many languages are being spoken and team members are familiar with multiple approaches to project management. Not everyone saw the need for a common framework, so we needed to persuade everyone that there was something in it for each of them.

It was also a challenge to keep the framework, governance bodies’ requirements and templates easy to understand, yet still be able to meet our objectives. We didn’t want something that would just go on the shelf – particularly as the first tranches of analysis on the MTB project were carried out four or five years ago. Many things have changed over that time, so the gateway process had to take all that into account.

The final gateway process, The Abu Dhabi Airports Way of Delivering Capital Projects, was about creating a common sense of purpose and culture, and, importantly, a shared use of language to describe phases, templates and so on.

Building ongoing success

The continuing success of the MTB programme has come, largely, from a combination of proactive risk management and an effective gateway process. Airports are highly complex organisms and demand a focused, proactive approach to project delivery.

Lessons learned from managing projects in the Middle East
  • Ensure that appropriate time to plan and obtain the many various authority approvals is taken into account in the programme – and expect delays!
  • At the outset of any project, define the project standards/criteria (EU/US standards) to be applied. Failure to do so often leads to delays and change.
  • Ensure full recognition for local working hours is taken into account.
  • Programme delays are often caused by a lack of consideration for the sensitivity of working hours during Ramadan, and failure to plan for reduced productivity during summer working hours.
  • Project teams are made up of diverse, multicultural individuals, emphasising the need for clear and concise communication. Without it, the achievement of stated objectives can be at risk.



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