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Dec 04, 2009

Work on new airport entering final stages

Construction|Engineering|Africa|Aircraft|Asphalt|Aviation|Building|Concrete|Design|Education|Fire|Installation|Lighting|PROJECT|Project Management|Projects|Resources|Road|System|Systems|Training|transport|Africa|Equipment|Logistics|Maintenance|Service|Services|Steel|Systems|Environmental|Infrastructure|Cables|Operations
Construction|Engineering|Africa|Aircraft|Asphalt|Aviation|Building|Concrete|Design|Education|Fire|Installation|Lighting|PROJECT|Project Management|Projects|Resources|Road|System|Systems|Training|transport|Africa|Equipment|Logistics|Maintenance|Service|Services|Steel|Systems|Environmental|Infrastructure|Cables|Operations
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The building of infrastructure at the new airport at La Mercy, in KwaZulu-Natal is largely complete. The control tower and ten ancillary buildings, including the fire and rescue building, have been handed over to te client Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), says Turner & Townsend project service director Jon Broadhead.

Turner & Townsend are undertaking the project management, project controls,cost management and document control services, as an integral part of the Ilembe joint venture(JV).

The terminal building is being completed in four phases. Phase one, which includes the first check-in areas and the baggage system, has been completed. Acsa will start live trials at the airport from the middle of January.

Markings are being painted on the runways. Navigation systems are being finalised in preparation for calibration flights on December 14, 2009. The Civil Aviation Authority will perform flight checks on instrument landing systems during the flight, Broadhead says.

The manner in which this project is being delivered is unique to South Africa, which has partly been dictated by the procurement methodologies and the tight timeframe in which the complete project needs to be delivered. This has required an integrated approach between client, contractors, professional team and suppliers.

No innovative building techniques were used in the project – with designers and contractors having used tried-and-tested techniques, he says.

However, the short timeframe of the project necessitated accele- rating the work from day one. Designers worked on their designs in collaboration with contractors. This ensured that the construction drawings produced and given to the contractors were as ‘buildable’, effective and efficient as possible to avoid redesigning and reworking, he explains.

“The design, development and interface between the designers and contractors have been the key focus in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of the design process. We could not afford to continue redesigning. We wanted to build in the input of experienced contractors to speed up construction as the project has always been on a short schedule,” Broadhead says.

Engineering consultants PD Naidoo & Associates (PDNA) are part of the Ilembe Engineering JV, designing the civil and structural works on the project and ensuring that construction information is on site on time and that designs meet specifications and are integrated. CEO Aligasen Naidu says methods to accelerate the construction of the project include laying two layers for the foundations of the aprons at once. These foundations, which are about 1,5m deep, were covered with 280 mm to 300 mm of concrete before the asphalt was laid on top of the concrete.

Engineers have now taken on an oversight role to ensure quality. Workers are installing mechanical and electrical systems, and under- taking landscaping and other finishing work in preparation for the public opening date, he says.

The airport is being built as an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, and Naidu says that the contractors, the client and the professional team are working together to make the project a success.

“The contractors are doing marvellous work on the large site. Given the time constraints, the fixed price and scope of the project can be termed a project management feat,” he says.

Basic materials, such as sand and crushed stone, are sourced from the site. This reduces logistics costs and engineers can oversee the operations to ensure that work is done in a manner that makes the rehabilitation of the site easier after construction. Most of the areas where materials are sourced, however, have been designated for future development.

Most of the construction mate- rials are sourced locally with specialised and high-technology items sourced internationally, Broadhead says. The baggage handling system comes from Glidepath, in New Zealand, the cargo handling system is made by German company ICM and the air bridges are sourced from Spain, where they are manufactured by steel producer and elevator manufacturer ThyssenKrupp.

Acsa spokesperson Colin Naidoo says that the R7-billion project is 80% complete. The airfield lighting has been commissioned, which included a test of the runway lights. The air bridges are being commissioned and tested. The airport will be completed on May 1, 2010, and in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup if the project runs according to schedule.

A critical issue for the airport is its lack of a name. Civil Aviation regulations must be met according to the international air transport association airport code. The airport code and the name must also be recorded in aviation manuals. The road and directional signage needs to be completed by the end of 2009. The name of the airport is a high priority and should be made public by the end of 2009, Naidoo says.


Inclement weather has proved to be a challenge and is affecting the installation of electrical cables. The weather also affects the final trimming works and the grading of surfaces, Broadhead says.

Information and communica- tion technology systems commissioning and integration are the biggest challenge currently facing engineers and contractors at the airport, he says.

Naidu says the greatest challenge for PDNA was the long tendering procedure and the relatively late involvement of Acsa in association with the Dube TradePort. Acsa requires a common design philosophy between the new airport and established ones and this neces- sitated additional changes to design plans. The end date for the project did not change, despite the prolonged negotiations and additional requirements.

“Due to time constraints, engi- neers had to carry out detailed design work, while simultaneously constructing and quality checking. This was the case for about 50% to 60% of the project’s duration,” he says.

A lot of work has also gone into ensuring that the new airport will not have a serious environmental impact on the area, despite the tight construction window of the project. Measures to mitigate and to reduce the adverse effects of a project are an important part of the art of engineering, Naidu says.


Once the new airport is fully operational, by May 2010, Durban International Airport will be decommissioned and all avia- tion will be conducted from the new airport. The 2010 FIFA World Cup air traffic will be managed from the new airport; however, the old airport could be used in the event of an emergency and possibly to park aircraft should it be required during the event, Naidoo says.

On April 30, 2010, the last air- craft will land at Durban Inter-national Airport, offload its passengers and fly to the new airport. All equipment and resources at the Durban airport will be transferred to the new airport at La Mercy for the start of operations on May 1, 2010, he says.

A programme will run between November 16, 2009, and April 22, 2010, to familiarise staff with the new airport and to train them in the technical skills required for the handling of the new equipment. Specialist training for the operation and maintenance of equipment, such as the air bridges, the automated baggage system and escalators, will be provided by the companies which built the equipment, Naidoo says.

Social Responsibility

Government regulations dictate that people and companies in the neighbouring regions have to benefit from the project and, thus, a number of small, emerging professional companies based in KwaZulu-Natal are involved in the construction of the airport. Training, skills development and corporate social responsibility are key focus areas of the project, says Naidu.

There are 5 500 workers on site during the current peak development phase.

A National Council of Provin-ces (NCOP) delegation inspected the site on September 16, 2009. NCOP deputy chairperson Thandi Memela is impressed with the progress of the work at the airport in such a short time.

“One of our concerns as govern- ment is what is going to happen to the people employed in the construction of this state-of-the-art new facility when the project is complete. Within the context of the economic downturn and job losses, we have to help in ensuring that some of the newly skilled people working on this project are not lost to the workforce. Their skills need to be ploughed back into future projects of not just government, but also the private sector,” she says.

Ilembe skills development manager Pravani Govender says that there is a Construction, Education and Training Authority (Ceta)-accredited trainer on site that focuses on project-specific training. The aim is to develop a pool of skilled artisans and to have a database of skilled employees at the end of the project that will be added to the national Ceta data- base.

The new airport should directly or indirectly create 150 000 to 200 000 new jobs. Acsa and all airport stake- holders at Durban International Airport are busy with interventions for staff to be relocated to the new airport. Employment opportunities for the operation of the new airport will be publicised by the necessary service providers according to their needs, says Naidoo.

There are various conditions attached to the record of deci- sion issued by the previous Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, in 2007. Acsa is working closely with the relevant government agencies and specialists to ensure that all conditions are complied with during and after the construction of the project, he says.

Edited by: Brindaveni Naidoo
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