When Britain’s queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the $6bn
Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow airport in March 2008, British Airways boss
Willie Walsh smiled as the UK’s largest free-standing structure was finally
Ten days later, when around 42,000 bags had gone missing and
over 500 flights were cancelled, the Irishman’s smile was long gone.
As Abu Dhabi counts down the hours before the official
opening of the $7bn Khalifa Port — the emirate’s largest ever infrastructure
project — Tony Douglas, CEO of Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC), will be hoping
he doesn’t suffer the same fate as the beleaguered British Airways boss.
“On average we are doing about 1,700 tests every day at the
moment… This is a megaproject, the biggest megaproject in the region and it has
been deliberately kept low-key,” Douglas says with pride, having just come from
briefing Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, on
the final steps under way before the big launch.
“The project is now complete. We go live and operational at
precisely 7 am on September 1,” an upbeat Douglas adds.
When asked how he plans to avoid the fate of Heathrow’s
Terminal 5, Douglas steals an infamous quote from former US Secretary of Defence
Donald Rumsfeld: “There are known knowns; there are things we know that we
know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now
know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we
do not know, we don’t know.”
“What you talk about, with big pieces of integration like
this, is that you meticulously plan,” Douglas adds. “You look at risks you can
sensibly identify and mitigate and then you test them rigorously.
“You try to simulate when things go wrong and how you can
recover, and we’ve done all that at Khalifa Port. Are we in as good a shape you
could ever possibly hope for? We think we are.”
Size matters when it comes to mega projects in the Middle
East and to put the epic scale of this opening into perspective, Douglas points
out that Khalifa Port and Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad) combined
are the size of a small country.
Around 420 square kilometres (sq km) in size, the project
will be four times bigger than Abu Dhabi island, two-thirds the size of
Singapore and will be a quarter the size of Greater London, stretching from
Canary Wharf to Slough.
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