How is the construction of the Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC) at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) progressing?
DOUGLAS: The latest status is really exciting. Here we are now with the new gateway to the capital city here in Abu Dhabi, and it's the biggest mega-project in the whole of the UAE. There's nearly 15,000 guys working on the project at this point in time and it's visible from the highway, so it's been the largest basement dig in the nation.
Obviously, when it was below the ground most people didn't know it was even going on, and now everyday it's a spectator sport. People drive on the busiest highway in the whole of Abu Dhabi. They go past it, and they can see this incredible roof arch that now symbolises the geometry of the midfield terminal. It's a really, really exciting time.
In terms of scale, it's an enormous, enormous structure. By scale of airports, for those people who are familiar with Terminal Three at Dubai, this is one and half times bigger. For those who are familiar with Terminal Five at London-Heathrow, plus the two satellites, it's one and a half times bigger. But as a mega-structure, it's probably got more in common with building a Nimitz class aircraft carrier than a regular construction project.
And the reason why is actually a systems integration project, that just happens to be inside of a great big building, not to be confused of course, with a great big building. But if I use the Nimitz class aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz, the biggest aircraft carrier in the world, again to give the sense of scale, fits comfortably inside the plant room in the basement. That's how big this project is. It's awesome.
Progress of 2013, 2013 was almost the year of the substructure, so most of it was below ground. 2014 is characterized as the year of the roof. So this incredible piece of iconic architecture will not only progressively rise from the ground, but by the end of 2014, from the highway, will look for intents and purpose, complete.
And the architecture is truly unique in the very same sense that I guess, if I did simple finger sketches of this nature, some people would say Sydney Opera House. If I did finger structures like this, people might say the Eiffel Tower. I have absolutely no doubt in the future that if I did finger sketches like this, people would say Abu Dhabi International Airport, the gateway of the UAE, the home of Etihad Airways.
So 2014 is a really big year in regard to the definition of the roof. 2015 is the year of the internal fit out and the installation of the world's biggest baggage handling system. And of course 2016, is the year of making sure everything works. You test it, test it, and test it again. And 2017, at precisely 0700 hours, on the 17th 07, 2017, we'll open it to the traveling public.
How confident are you that the project will be delivered on time and on budget?
DOUGLAS: Look, I'm really very lucky, you know. To be involved in a mega-project anywhere is a gift that very few people are fortunate enough to have the experience of. And we're really excited and proud of what we've got. It doesn't get much better than this. The sheer scale of it; it's 700,000 square metres and that for people who are familiar with big airports around the world, is about as big as it gets. So delivering something like this is a privilege.
Delivering them on time and delivering them inside the budget, is the name of the game, and that's something that can't be in any way underestimated. It's a real challenge. It's always very, very difficult indeed, but we've made a big commitment here. We're going to deliver it precisely at 0700 hours, on the 17th 07, 2017. So for anybody who likes 7s and 17s, they'll be able to remember this date and failure is not an option. That's what we've signed up to and that's what we're going to deliver. It's great fun but it's also real hard work. It's as good as it gets.
2013 was a record year for Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) with more than 16.5m passengers coupled with significant increases in aircraft and freight traffic. What are the major works that have been undertaken under the Capacity Enhancement Program (CEP) that allowed AUH to set these records?
DOUGLAS: During the course of 2013, we actually increased the size of Abu Dhabi International Airport by 16%. So from now to this time a year ago, the infrastructure is 16% bigger in scale in terms of the capacity that it provides. And that was a whole new arrivals hall, which was opened in August of 2013, an enormous coaching facility that allows us to use remote stands whilst we develop the rest of the airport.
In terms of scale, it's an enormous, enormous structure. By scale of airports, for those people who are familiar with Terminal Three at Dubai, this is one and half times bigger. For those who are familiar with Terminal Five at London-Heathrow, plus the two satellites, it's one and a half times bigger.
We were extremely proud of being able to open the regions first US Pre-Clearance facility which allows you to go through US Customs and Border Protection. Therefore, when you arrive in the USA, if you departed from Abu Dhabi International Airport, you arrive in the USA as a domestic traveler.
So these were big projects during the course of last year but the reason why we've had to do it, is because the home-base carrier is doing an incredible job of growing really, really quickly. They are a spectacular performer, they have an incredible product, and their growth is requiring us literally every day to revisit our capacity and to deliver even more for them, and of course their travelers.
So importantly the period between now and 2017 is where we've got to be really innovative in making sure that we can continue to maintain our status as the Middle East's number one airport. And that has been something that we've received as an international prize for the last two years running. To deliver that consistently between now and 2017, is going to be a real challenge for us, but one we're really excited about.
With further increases in passenger and traffic numbers predicted in the years before the opening of the MTC, how confident are you that you can continue to scale up capacity in existing facilities to meet the growth in traffic?
DOUGLAS: We're going to really put quite a bit of additional investment into Terminal One and Terminal Three. Terminal One in particular will undergo a sizable development program during the course of 2014. There are seven individual projects which will all enhance that incredible terminal; and the reason why I say incredible is for those people who've been through Terminal One in Abu Dhabi, that dome that's inside of it of course, gives you immediately that sense of purpose and that sense of place. You're unmistakably in Abu Dhabi. And the heritage of Terminal One is the sort of space that we all really enjoy.
So the development plans to make it even better, to make it even bigger, of course are absolutely key. But as well as that, we're going to be looking at adding additional transfer screening during the course of this year; a brand new transfer baggage facility as well as extending parts of Terminal Three. So it's another year of big development ambition, with our existing infrastructure.
Abu Dhabi is within close proximity to 2 other cities, Dubai and Doha, which are investing heavily in aviation infrastructure. How would you describe Abu Dhabi’s position relative to these other hubs?
DOUGLAS: The question that people ask all the time is how do three very vibrant and fast-growing hubs such as Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi complement or compete with one another? And it's an understandable question. I think interestingly, it's worthwhile looking at the region in general and the fact that the UAE is in six flying hours of two-thirds of the world's population. It's in eight flying hours of 81% of the world's population. Back to six hours, it's six hours to a hundred of the world's capital cities. And more importantly if you look at the distribution of the age profile in many of these locations, but also disposable earnings, many of the people for example in the Indian sub-continent, are moving into the space where $25,000 USD of salaried disposable earnings, means that discretionary travel has become a real option.
So the incredible growth that we witnessed at the Dubai Air Show of 2013, the world’s largest civil aviation order of all time with Boeing and Airbus Industries, was of course analysed carefully by the airlines as a result of the growth forecasts that they see. And that's why our trajectory here at Abu Dhabi is very much linked to that of Etihad, and is based upon such a steep growth curve. It's in a really, really exciting place to be. And I think if you look now globally at aviation, people have concluded for some time that the epicentre of global aviation has continued to move eastwards and southwards. I think most global economists would offer the opinion that the absolute X and Y-axis therefore now, is very much in the middle of the UAE.
What is your outlook for the aerospace and aviation industry in Abu Dhabi?
DOUGLAS: Abu Dhabi has a very clear vision of the future. The wisdom of the leadership of Abu Dhabi laid down some time ago the Vision 2030 document. And for people who have not had the opportunity to read it, I would compel them to do so, because there's enough substance in that document to give it real direction. But equally, it's a high level vision and strategic framework. One of the core elements to that of course is supporting many of the other areas where diversified economic growth is targeted, including the facilitation of world class transport infrastructure and the importance of aviation as a sector. Abu Dhabi has invested significantly in recent years, not only in the technology side of aviation in regards to the maintenance and repair side of supporting aviation in regards to the airline itself, Etihad, technically one of the fastest growing airlines in the whole of the world right now, but also the infrastructure on the ground. So I think that people can see that the dots are all joined up and it's a core enabler to the exciting view of what the future has to hold, and therefore my call to people internationally who are engaged in the aviation sector is quiet simple. There's no better place to be right now than here, right in the heart of the UAE.