Site visit: Relocating Dubai's airshow

The Dubai Airshow is big business – it holds the record for the largest ever order book taken at an air show – with the value of deals announced at the 2007 show reaching $155 billion. And in 2011 the order book continued to pull its weight, delivering a hefty $63.3 billion.

However, the biggest surprise for visitors to the Dubai Airshow 2013 will be the fact that the same permanent structures formerly located at Dubai International Airport (DXB) have been moved to Dubai World Central (DWC), Jebel Ali.

Behind this impressive deconstruction and reconstruction, a rarity for Dubai, is Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects (DAEP), an organisation under the umbrella of the Dubai Aviation City Corporation, which is responsible for setting the standards for the Emirates’ latest aviation-related infrastructure.

With Dar Al-Handasah as the supporting consultant, the result is a project that defies both disposable culture and the regional fetish for making every building newer and shinier; instead it chooses to re-use.

The decision to relocate the existing Dubai Airshow structures from DXB to DWC was based on sound fundamentals, notes Toni Sleiman, head of construction at DAEP. “It was done because it was faster and cheaper,” he says. “The location also drove it, since buildings had to go to properly enable the expansion of the airport in line with the planning for 2020.”

DXB, as the fourth busiest airport in the world, needs the old Airshow site for more aircraft parking bays, while flight schedules mean that time slots can no longer be spared for flying displays.

“This is why the decision was taken that the airport should be in Jebel Ali,” continues Sleiman. “Relocating the buildings and the steel structures and everything came because of this.”

On top of speed and cost efficiency, the programme to recover as much of the original building materials as possible also established sustainability as a third pillar of the project. Sleiman confirms: “The decision was taken at a higher level, but it was driven by all of these three elements.”

But first came speed, with ALEC securing the $49.2m main contract for the structural works in February 2012. The contractor then commenced its 499-day duration programme a little over three months beyond the previous biennial event that November.

“The green light was given to have the Airshow in Jebel Ali the moment the 2011 show finished,” explains Sleiman. “By the time tour guys had finalised the design and issued the contract, it had started.”

While work on the new site began around June 2012, the relocation effort started as early as March. Components such as the latticed structural steel girders were transported whole. “We unbolted them at DXB, took them as they are and re-bolted them here,” says Sleiman.

“Logistics was part of the main contractor’s scope. Titan, a specialist sub-contractor under ALEC, was doing the dismantling of the steel and the resurrection and fabrication of new steel and its erection.” Of the 5,800 tonnage of structural steel consumed by the project, around 95% was re-used.

On the issue of materials testing, Sleiman adds: “The steel there was no issue – steel doesn’t require any testing. MEP was relocated as well, and for that equipment initial testing was done. Doors, ceilings, tiles, a lot of things were relocated – structure and infrastructure – all of this was relocated.”

By and large the plans for the 76,769m2 built-up area of the Airshow fit the original tightly, although the 20m-high exhibition hall has undergone a slight alteration, notes Sleiman. “In Dubai there were three separate halls; now it’s one big 272m by 235m open hall, so we increased the volumebut used the steel from the old buildings. The Royal Pavilion was taken from Dubai and built as is.”

“Obviously the concrete buildings were different because you cannot relocate those.” A total volume of 41,200m3 of concrete has been poured for the new facilities. A further 85 twin-storey and 18 single-storey event ‘chalets’ were also relocated in their entirety to DWC.

The on-site mosque, set conspicuously to the side with a 19.8m-high minaret, looks at first glance to be an entirely new construction. “In fact the concrete is new, but all the elements are relocated: the windows, doors, chandeliers and carpet.

Even the decorative glass-reinforced plastic elements outside were relocated,” says Sleiman. “The concrete buildings are mainly pre-cast: we did the beams and the columns and then placed pre-cast slab elements on top.”

Surprisingly, reusing and relocating are both almost entirely new to DAEP. Prior examples, such the relocation of architectural material for a majlis in DXB, have been dwarfed by the airshow’s scale.

“This is not a standard job, because we are not relocating the building as it was. We had to change it and increase the layout. After relocation we had to do the big exercise of a re-use study for every element – architectural, mechanical, electrical, everything – so it was not an easy task.

“On a new project you take the drawings, select the materials and place a full order based on that. For this project, no, you have to check the status of the current material, see where you can use it on the job and then order the rest if you have to balance material because the layout is now bigger. This was one of the main challenges.”

The other main contractor on site is Al Naboodah Contracting, which is responsible for infrastructure works including the underground supply network, site drainage, roads and over 5,000 parking spaces.

Together with the aircraft apron, the surfaced areas used 46,000 tonnes of asphalt. The deep pipe excavations that perforate the site have added complexity in particular to the site’s safety.

Leading CW around the site was Suhel Ibrahim Bakwal, DAEP’s senior health, safety, security and environment (HSSE) officer on the project. He highlighted the main risks on site as lifting operations, excavation and work at height.

However, the site has not seen a single lost time injuries (LTIs) during the course of its 4,670,284 man-hours, despite the project’s occupation by a total of 3,350 workers.
During our visit 58 days remained for the structural works, but the strict safety guidelines remain the same, with checklists on every piece of equipment and scaffold. “We have a department to overlook that, and the consultant and the contractor also have safety departments,” says Sleiman.

“Before every activity a risk assessment should be done and all the necessary measures put in place, and we monitor this, so it is not by coincidence – it is hard work – safety is first on all our sites.”

The buildings themselves have also been upgraded in terms of life safety. “Those buildings were built in 2000, so we updated all the systems to meet the current code, mainly in fire fighting, fire safety, emergency lighting – all of these elements.”

The project is around 85% complete, and it should be finished by the end of June. “It’s a fast track job and every month we are achieving around 2.8%, so the contractors are doing very well,” says Sleiman.

“We are also involved in everything, not like some other clients. We have a big technical team – an engineering and a planning department - we are all engineers.”

Moving forward, the next item on the agenda is the relocation of the previous Airshow site’s 27.5m-high control tower. “For the tower, the decision to relocate it was taken at a later stage,” explains Sleiman.

“We have started the foundations for that, and the core will be in pre-cast. The concrete cannot be relocated, so we have to build a new shaft, but the steel elements, the cabin and the cladding will be relocated – so whatever we can relocate we are relocating.”

In future, the 645,000m2 DWC site, more than double the size of the Dubai Airport Expo, will also allow the Airshow to expand its exhibition space and footprint.

Sleiman confirms: “The exhibition hall now the open space is 41,077m2, and there is room for an expansion of at least twice as much as this area on the East and West.” Appreciating this, only time can tell how high the Dubai Airshow might soar.


DAR AL Handasah

Main Contractor for structural works

Main contractor for infrastructure works
Al Naboodah Contracting

Quantity Surveyor
Davis Langdon

Structural steel


Issam Kabbani

Lakshmi and Qatar metals



Plafond and Al Hashem Marble

ALEC precast and UPC

Chilled water


Glazing and cladding
Technical Glass


Fire alarms
Al Arabia


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