Incompetence and delays haunt New Islamabad Airport


Airport suffers from a faulty design and basic flaws

Construction of modern airports for commercial aviation is a specialised field requiring regulatory control by qualified individuals with relevant industry experience in structural design, safety requirements, etc. The soil survey of site and the choice of contractors with specialised consultants employing qualified engineers and architects determines the fate and on time completion of the project. The complexities of commercial aviation leave no space for negligence and mistakes. When contracts for mega specialised projects such as New Islamabad Airport are given on political connections, then their fate is doomed.

Unfortunately, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been reduced to a dumping ground for retired services officers, lacking in skills and competence for oversight of such projects. It takes more than the skills of a pilot to serve as an advisor for aviation or perform the role of DG CAA, given the fact that the difference between military aviation and commercial aviation is as vast as that between a dentist and a cardiologist. Strict oversight by qualified specialists, approval of design, and the choice of contractors chosen to build an airport is very vital.

Billions have been poured into New Islamabad Airport which suffers from a faulty design and basic flaws, apart from the choice of site viz-a-viz soil survey making it least suitable for a cost-effective, safe and efficient airport. CAA the state regulatory body, tasked with regulating aviation, failed miserably in criminal oversight in basic design provision such as sufficient spacing between two parallel runways rendering the airport incapable for simultaneous flight operations from parallel runways at peak hours or to handle an A380, etc. These flaws are because both the contractor and regulator lack qualified expertise well versed in commercial aviation requirements and specialisation in airport design.

Master plan for the airport was completed in 2006 and the construction started in 2007 at Pind Ranjah near Fateh Jang some 25km from Zero Point in Islamabad on 1800 acres of land. A proper soil survey would never have got approval from qualified regulators, employing civil and structural engineers, because this is a barren area devoid of any underground water required for safe operation of an airport. An airport of this size needs over two million gallons of water per day or more in a case of emergencies. This would require additional cost escalation for building a dam and its recurring maintenance cost.

The project was initially supposed to be completed by 2011 at a cost of Rs 37 billion, which escalated to Rs 70 Billion, with a revised completion date in 2015 and followed by another jack up to Rs 81 Billion and a new deadline of 30 October, 2016. Both the cost and the completion deadline are expected to be further extended to 2017 with no penalties for the contractor or holding anybody accountable in ministry or CAA for this criminal incompetence.

It seems that the powerful real estate investors stand to gain from this unsuitable barren site unfit for the construction of a modern airport. A housing scheme PECHS has already emerged with other residential societies, and commercial centres mushrooming in the vicinity, posing the danger of bird hazards and compromising security, which haunts existing airports. Airports all over the world are constructed at sites located far from cities so that there is a sterile zone free from any residential or commercial construction in order to ensure security.

There is no dearth of qualified specialists with skills and experience in Pakistan. It is a lack of political will, integrity and ethics of governance such as conflicts of interest, disregard for merit and failure to enforce accountability for wastage of public funds that haunts all development projects and their regulatory oversight in Pakistan.

Compare this to New Indira Gandhi Airport’s Terminal 3, which started in 2007 and was completed by March, 2010 in under 37 months. This airport included modernisation and extension of two existing runways with CAT 111 landing facility and a third 4.4km long 11/29 runway built in 2008. It has 168 check-In counters and 95 immigration counters, of which 49 are for foreign departures. It has 78 aerobridges with three dual-level capable of handling A380 type aircraft. The apron is 6.7 million sq feet and installed with 3,000 security cameras and CCTVs spread across the airport for 24/7 monitoring. Terminal 3 is installed with 800 Flight Information Display Systems and 8,000 speakers. The cost includes 100-room transit hotel, seven million litre daily drinking water, 10 MLD waste water treatment plants and connections to Delhi Metro railway with an 8-lane approach road, and a parking space for 2,200 cars with a new 7-level automated parking system for 4,300 cars. It features 50,000 architectural lighting and baggage reclaim area with 14 belts. Two belts are specifically allocated for oversize or out of gauge bags. Baggage processing system provides five levels of checking, including integrated x-ray and CTX scanners, with 6,400-meter conveyor belt that can handle 12,800 bags par hour.