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Thu 22 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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ADAC forges ahead with growth plans

Abu Dhabi Airports Company is investing millions to redevelop Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The credit crunch has failed to clip the wings of Abu Dhabi Airports Company. The firm is investing millions of dollars to redevelop Abu Dhabi International Airport in preparation for receiving some 20 million annual passengers by 2010, pushing forward with new midfield and passenger terminals to complement its already operational second runway.

What was your mandate when you joined ADAC last March and what have you achieved in that time?

The one objective we can't lose track of is our midfield terminal complex - it's the maturity of Abu Dhabi International Airport. It's a terminal that will span more then 500,000 sq m and provide us with capacity to handle between 40 to 50 million passengers a year.

We are in the midst of prioritising things, such as the soft opening to Terminal 3 (T3), which will primarily be used by Etihad Airways. We opened a second runway in early October, so we are one of the airports in the region with two operational runways.

We are also constructing our new air traffic control tower, which will span over 110 metres in height when opened this year.

It's been the first step towards the midfield terminal - when operating with two runways and a new terminal you need the tower in place. We'll have it before the terminal is completed.

What impact has the second runway had on Abu Dhabi Airport's operation?

The second runway gives greater flexibility, and the target of any airport is to have two runways. But it [the runway] requires maintenance and we have had blackouts after midnight on some nights to shut it down for routine work.

Have you seen a significant increase in takeoffs and landings since the new runway was opened?

That's not driven by having another runway. We have no holding pattern issues, which is great, so planes don't stay in the sky circling to get clearance to land. As an airport operator, the growth is on your doorstep. You need to think ahead about traffic and demand.

We are seeing an increase in service level demands from our passengers and, as T3 fully opens up, it gives us more elbow room.

After the opening of T3, we will start with a comprehensive refurbishment of T1 to bring it up to standard, and that will help us push forward continued improvement of service levels for passengers.

How confident are you of satisfying ADAC's target to secure 20 million passengers by 2012?

I will tell you one thing about aviation, projections are exactly that - projections. When you run forecasts, they are based on market conditions and you try to look at what's coming up. I always complain about the industry and people in it when they say; ‘by 2013 we will have 60 million passengers.'

You don't have a crystal ball and there is nothing more hideous when people make predictions saying, ‘I am going to deliver 15 percent growth, sustainable for the next 10 years.' It's unrealistic and you can have an economic downturn like we have now.

Outside circumstances affect our industry like the price of oil, SARS and 9/11, which people don't forecast for. It took four years before the aviation industry in the West returned back to normal after 9/11.

You can't forecast against that, so our projections are based on schedules, peak hours, plane orders and yield factors.

With that in mind, is it wise to be investing so heavily in infrastructure with the current global downturn?

We are confident we have a solid business. The airlines here are performing well above industry standards and we are seeing fairly sustained growth. When you do that, you need to plan the infrastructure accordingly.

Some people do ask, ‘with the economic downturn, is it wise to be investing in the infrastructure?' Absolutely, because these economic downturns eventually ride out.

We're planning everything for four to five years ahead and we can't say the same conditions we have today will be the same five years from now.

When you plan infrastructure you have to think way in advance, and when planning passenger numbers you're simply using a measure to reach a figure. Our forecast was to break nine million by the end of 2008.

Do you believe it's an occupational hazard to miss your passenger projections?

It's part of the industry. Hitting 20 million or 18.5 million is not really relevant. What is relevant is to be able to serve our customers and airlines and maintain and increase our level of service.

As a company, you look at the sustainability of the business you are building and those are the important factors for an airport operator. Our customers are thriving at Abu Dhabi Airport and we continue to bring in new airlines and customers to our hub.

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