Port of call

Tony Douglas, CEO of Abu Dhabi Ports Company, has masterminded the development of the UAE’s largest infrastructure project and has managed to bring it in on time and under budget. He gives an insight into the final days of preparation ahead of Khalifa Port’s opening on September 1

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 open.

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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