Al Shindagah Magazine Flying High

Al Habtoor Engineering won the main tender to construct a purpose built arena for the bi-annual Dubai airshow. Alex Phillips found out more about the project.

Just last November the area next to Dubai International Airport was a bleak sandy desert landscape with a few scrubby plants. Now, rising Phoenix-like from that harsh natural sandscape, are several man-made concrete and steel structures that will, by the middle of September this year, be transformed into a multi-million dirham purpose-built arena for the Dubai 2000 Airshow. It's hard to believe that in just a little over seven months the place will be alive with thousands of spectators and scores of planes will be on display at the world's third largest airshow after Farnborough in the UK and Le Bourget in France. The massive site will have everything an airshow needs and a lot more besides. The first airshow was held in 1989 and now this, the sixth show, is about to have its own permanent home, which will be constructed from scratch in just 10 months. This commitment from the Dubai Civil Aviation, the government of Dubai and the Royal family demonstrates how seriously Dubai takes it role as one of the major players in the booming international aeronautical business.

Right at the heart of this sudden mini building boom is one of Dubai's premier construction companies Al Habtoor Engineering, which, against international competition, won the main tenders to build the huge site for the government of Dubai. As yet there's no throaty roar of powerful jet aircraft showing what they can do, there's no show-off pilot demonstrating the almost unbelievable manoevres of a Russian fighter plane at a seemingly impossibly low altitude - all that's in the not too distant future. For now all that is visible are the skeletons of buildings on a sandy area where more than a thousand workers toil on the half-finished concrete and steel structures. At the height of the building work around 2,000 workers, both unskilled and skilled, will be working together to get everything finished on time.

But one thing is for sure - the purpose built site for the Dubai Airshow 2000 is well on target to be completed right on time for the next biannual event, which is rapidly becoming one of the world's top airshows.

It's not cheap to build a brand new area which can cope with a tiny Cessna aircraft , and military fighter jets alongside the giant C 130 aircraft which is so big it has its own huge hangar. But under the watchful eyes of Al Habtoor Engineering the site is slowly but surely taking shape.

To build a site to host the world's third most popular airshow in under 12 months is an achievement in itself. It has taken the design clout of Dar Al Handasah combined with the technical and engineering know-how of Al Habtoor Engineering to pull everything together in such a short space of time.

The new permanent site is to the south-east of Dubai International Airport where the previous shows were held. But the continuing success of the airshows has prompted the government of Dubai to build this new Dh 185 millions site with brand new huge exhibition halls, a dedicated Control Tower and a Royal Pavilion.

The principal way in to the site for visitors travelling eastbound from the airport road from Dubai will be by the flyover, which gives access to the one way system into the principal car parks. These can can cater for up to 3,000 cars with 500 more spaces available in a nearby spillover area. Two other entry routes for westbound traffic via Rashidya Road are also provided together with three exit routes.

All visitors to the airshow will be checked in through the main Reception building, which is one of the longest continuously arched structures in Dubai and which will have separate channels for organisers and exhibitors, visitors, trade delegations and VIPs.

The Reception has a ground and mezzanine level and contains the Dubai Civil Aviation offices, executive offices and a Business Centre. The Reception hall contains kiosks offering a variety of services including banking, post office, travel agents and other facilities. Restaurants are located to the east and west of the building overlooking the airside plaza and outdoor exhibition areas. Food on offer will include traditional Arabic fare, fast food and French CafÈ style among many others.

Once through reception visitors of all kinds will walk through to the airside exhibition plaza around which are placed the two main exhibition halls, outdoor restaurant facilities, a cafeteria, duty free shops, executive flight services, first aid posts, information centre and other public facilities.

The massive exhibition halls, each with a total area of 18,000 sq metres, can provide up to 25,000 sq metres of clear exhibition area at ground level - 85 per cent of which is already booked for the next Airshow due to take place in its new home between November 14 to 18.

The halls themselves are designed in the form of large independent squares and each one is surrounded by multiple support facilities including cafes, toilets and staff areas. The west hall has Royal Gallery and Majlis while the east hall caters for the large contingent of press and television crews on the mezzanine level.

Walking through to the airside plaza brings the visitor to the Static Aircraft Display and the Corporate Chalets aranged in a line along the length of the apron area.

The Corporate Chalets are permanent and include 68 double storey units and 18 single storey buildings. Their roofs will be waterproofed and windows will be double glazed. They have been designed with indoor entertainment facilities, lounge and dining room space and outdoor viewing terraces.

The Royal Pavilion is conveniently located to give access to the exhibition halls and has been integrated with the chalet layout and provides VIP reception, Majlis and dining facilities for guests of the Royal party. Grandstands with prime viewing for visitors to the show are located at either end of the corporate chalets and can provide seating for up to 1,000 people.

The two exhibition halls are linked to the Flight Control Centre, which also houses the Flight Committee and the Pilot Briefing Rooms. These are connected directly to the Control Tower overlooking the apron and and which acts as the nerve center for all the airshow's flying activities.

Project Manager for Al Habtoor Engineering Enterprises Nasr A Nasr, said the project was split into three separate tenders all of which were won by Al Habtoor. The east and West Exhibition Halls, the Flight Control Centre, Control Tower and various support buildings should be finished and handed over by September 13.

The Main Reception building should be finished and handed over by July and the Royal Pavillion, C 130 hangar and Airforce Store should be completed by August.

" We are on time with the project and everything will be completed by the right hand over dates."

He praised the full co-operation from the designers Dar Al Handasah, the client Dubai Civil Aviation and the Dubai Air Wing representing the Dubai government, in getting all the elements of a complicated project together and off the mark so quickly.

The structures will all be concrete over a steel frame with a creamy white cladding to the exterior walls: " The job is a turnkey project - we will provide everything down to the toilets, fittings, kitchens, - apart from the furniture.

"Around 1,200 workers from Al Habtoor's own resources are currently working on the site and at the peak there will be around 2,000 skilled and unskilled workers here. We have employed many more contractors than usual so that we can get the programme finished on time," he said.

Al Habtoor is also responsible for hard and soft landscaping of the site, which will feature lots of greenery, shrubs and palm trees.

"Al Habtoor's first priority is to complete the project on time because we understand the importance of Dubai Airshow 2000 to the government of Dubai and the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.

" We are directed by our Managing Partner to do whatever is requested to ensure this project is completed in time."

Suzanne Al Anani is the Airshow Co-ordinating Manager on behalf of the Dubai Airwing. She has been working on the project from the start and has liased with the principals involved from the initial design stage right through to construction work being carried out by Al Habtoor.

"I am involved in the preparationof the design with Dar Al Handarah and I ensure the co-ordination of all the major parties involved in the project. I make sure that everybody's requirements are transferred to the design team and I follow through with the design team in the preparation of budgets and tenders and then follow through to the construction work."

She praised His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister as the man who put Dubai on the international map by staging a well organised and successful airshow which is now ranked among the top three in the world. She also paid tribute to Shiekh Ahmed bin Saaed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Department of Civil Aviation for his continuing help and support.

Though the Dubai 2000 Airshow ranks number three in the world alongside Singapore the Dubai event, with the new purpose-built permanent site, will in fact be number one in terms of facilities and amenities.

"We are aiming to be number two in terms of size and number one in popularity with the facilities we offer. Dubai has the quality of facilities and services and the location here is the best in the Middle East which will attract people from this area as well as the rest of the world."

This year the show will be split evenly between the civil and military aircraft industries and already the massively expanded exhibition space is 85 per cent booked. There is space available if the site needs to be expanded in the future.

As the Dubai Airshow is only held every two years the buildings have been designed for use as a multi-exhibition site. The exhibition halls can be used in a number of different ways depending on the type of company and the type of products being exhibited: " The location is good too as it is near the centre of Dubai for hotel rooms and is also close to the Northern Emirates as well."

This year's show will be the sixth show, the first being held in 1989 at Dubai International Airport. The new purpose-built site is expected to attract even more of the top names in aircraft manufacturers and related industries from the Middle East and from the major industrialised western nations.

It's too early yet to say who will be at this year's show but at the last one in 1997 more than 500 companies exhibited representing 31 countries with eight massive national pavilions. Figures this year look set to soar even higher.

In 1997 there were more than 70 civil and military aircraft on static display, 17 of which took part in the daily aerobatic displays. The highlights of the show were breathtaking precision flying from Britain's Red Arrows and France's Patrouille de France aerobatic display teams along with the amazing flying skills demonstrated by the Russian pilot of the Sukhoi Su-37.

In fact at 1997's Airshow, which was held near the Cargo Village, the low flying military aircarft brought the roads surrounding the airport to a standstill as thousands of onlookers craned their necks to watch the fantastic display of flying skills.

  • New trends which developed at the 1997 show and which seem likely to be at the forefront at this year's show include more emphasis on executive jet transportation and chartering, using Dubai as a regional hub.

  • Increased local participation with at least 50 companies being represented at the 1997 show and possibly more at this year's event.

  • The continuing trend away from military aircraft towards the civilian sector as the market shifts towards corporate and civilian planes being displayed and demonstrated to top buyers from both the Middle East and around the world.

  • No doubt the ongoing battle between American civilian plane giant Boeing and Europe-based Airbus consortium will be intensified as the main combatants fight it out for the lucrative business of UAE and Gulf carriers as each strives for dominance over the clear blue Middle Eastern skies.