A Terminal in 18 Months

Richard Meredith and Onur Cayirliolu Joint Project Directors, Limak GMR Joint Venture, explain how Istanbul/Sabiha Gökçen’s International Terminal was constructed in just 18 months.

The first concrete foundation for Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport’s new passenger terminal was cast by the Prime Minister of Turkey at a ceremony on May 3, 2008.  Just 18 months later, on October 31, 2009, he returned to inaugurate the 2,260,495 sq ft (210,000m2) terminal and its associated facilities.
This article addresses the implementation of the project and explains how the construction and operational readiness were completed in 18 months.

Project Background
The Turkish Ministry of Defence (SSM) decided to increase the capacity of the existing Sabiha Gökçen Airport through the construction of a new terminal under a Private Public Partnership on a 20-year Build Operate Transfer model.  In July 2007, the consortium – Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (ISG Consortium) – formed by GMR, Limak and Malaysia Airports, was successful in winning the concession.  The project received Government High Planning Council approval in March 2008 and the ISG Consortium took over operation of the existing airport terminals on May 1, 2008.
The concession allowed 30 months for construction of the new terminal.  However, during the ceremony on May 3, 2008, the Prime Minister of Turkey asked the ISG Consortium to complete the terminal by October 29, 2009, (18 months from award) as a gift to the nation on its Republic day.  To achieve this ambitious target Limak and GMR formed an equal share construction Joint Venture (JV) and signed an engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) contract with the ISG Consortium.  As majority shareholders in the ISG Consortium, Limak and GMR’s reward for managing the risk of construction themselves were reduced construction time and cost.
The JV partners have different and overlapping interests.  Established in 1976, Limak (in addition to construction) has interests in various sectors including cement, energy, airports, infrastructure, food and tourism – and they have been working with leading international companies in Joint Ventures on various projects.  GMR is an infrastructure developer in India and overseas with interests in airports, mining, roads and energy.  In India the company operates the airports at Delhi and Hyderabad and handles about 30% of the country’s air traffic.  A new 5,920,344 sq ft (550,000m2) international terminal is scheduled to open at Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport in July 2010.

New Terminal and Its Associated Facilities
The principal element of the project is the new 2,271,259 sq ft (210,000m2) passenger terminal building, which has a capacity of 25 million passengers per annum.  The terminal includes a fully-automated baggage handling system (with inline security capable of handling 7,500 bags per hour), 120 check-in desks, 24 CUSS units, IT systems, access control system, electronic surveillance with 1,230 CCTV cameras and vertical and horizontal transportation comprising 51 elevators, 35 escalators and 15 travelators.
The building is located on an area of previously filled ground and is founded on approximately 131,233 ft (40,000m) of bored piles.  The superstructure of the terminal is structural steel above an in situ concrete basement.  Turkey is in a high seismic zone.  The design has to accommodate earthquake forces and an Immediate Occupancy type of criteria has been adopted.  The terminal building is protected from effect of earthquakes by using 292 nos. pendulum seismic isolators to isolate the structure at ground level.  The terminal is designed to sustain a magnitude of up to eight on the Richter scale and is one of the world’s largest seismic isolated buildings.
Galvanized sheeting was used for its roofing, while the arrival, departure and mezzanine floors are of a composite construction of trapezoidal sheeting and concrete deck. The façade comprises aluminium composite panels, glass and precast concrete panels.  The climate in Istanbul is cold in winter and hot in summer, so a centralized heating and cooling system is provided.  A total of 53 X-ray machines are provided at security control points.  The gate lounges lead to 16 passenger-boarding bridges and all contact stands have a visual docking guidance system.
In addition to the new terminal building the project also includes a multi-storey car park, expansion of the passenger apron, a five-storey airport hotel and an exclusive VIP complex.  An aviation fuel hydrant system is provided on the passenger apron. 

Achieving the 18-Month Schedule
A blend of the JV’s local knowledge of subcontractors and subcontracting strategies and its expertise on airport systems resulted in a successful execution of ‘The Management Contractor’s Role’.  For a 2,260,495 sq ft (210,000m2) building on pile foundations the programme was very aggressive and had to be accomplished with detailed design and construction proceeding in parallel.  The JV’s coordination of this interface was a key factor in achieving the 18-month schedule.  There were numerous other challenges to overcome including:
Selecting suitable construction techniques
Despite the extra cost, a steel superstructure (rather than cast in situ concrete) was chosen for the building.  The advantage of this choice was quick construction.  It also resulted in large work fronts becoming quickly available for follow on works.
Where possible prefabricated elements were adopted, such as car park slabs.  This technique gives rapid construction, as works can progress in parallel offsite; better quality control of the product is possible in factory conditions and there is the opportunity to optimise the site’s logistics.  To use it successfully the JV had to solve the logistics of the delivery and provide supervision at multiple locations.

Before the global financial crisis the availability of some resources was limited. There were also increases in the cost of construction material. For example, steel prices increased by 40% between April and July 2008. After the crisis became apparent in September 2008 some subcontractors became financially vulnerable and required improved cash flow. However, the availability of labour and machinery improved. There was also a general easing of prices. (ISGC)

Subcontracting strategy

A multiple subcontracting strategy was used and more than 500 contracts were let.  This meant subcontractors were appointed promptly to expedite the programme and there was a cost saving because of reduction in margins.  This strategy also allowed the selection of small to medium-sized firms, who were willing to commence work on a handshake sometimes before contract signature.  For some activities like steel superstructure, granite, block work walls and plastering, more than one subcontractor was appointed.  This competition between two or more subcontractors improved production rates.  Contracts were usually fixed unit rate.  This suited the subcontractors as it removed quantity risk from their contract and left it with the JV.  Adopting this strategy meant the JV had to be responsible for coordination and interfacing.  The multiple subcontract strategy meant some warranty could not be effectively passed on to subcontractors and remains the JV’s responsibility.
Procurement strategy
Long lead items were procured early to ensure the delivery schedules met the construction programme.  This sounds easy, but is hard to achieve when design parameters have to be given and detailed design is ongoing.  To meet the programme vendor assessment had to be finalized quickly.  This necessitated using the JV’s knowledge of special systems and was successfully achieved, particularly in the complex negotiations for the baggage handling system and passenger boarding bridges.
Generally the JV undertook direct procurement of construction materials such as steel, concrete and lighting fixtures etc.  This strategy resulted in cost savings from the scale factor and reduction in margins.  It allowed the use of smaller (more choice) subcontractors to bid for the work and there was better control on quality of the material.  However, in the event of a ‘quality’ problem the material supplier and the workmanship subcontractor could blame each other and the JV had to manage this risk.
Construction during the global financial crisis
Before the financial crisis the availability of some resources was limited.  There were also increases in the cost of construction material.  For example, steel prices increased by 40% between April and July 2008.  After the crisis became apparent in September 2008 (when Lehman Brothers became bankrupt), some subcontractors became financially vulnerable and required improved cash flow.  However, the availability of labour and machinery improved.  There was also a general easing of prices.  It may also be noted that suppliers of major equipment were able to meet their committed manufacturing and delivery schedules without any problems.  Overall the affect of the global financial crisis on the JV’s construction was beneficial.
Integrating Operational Readiness And Transfer (ORAT) trials into the programme
Preparation for ORAT began more than six months before opening.  However, by necessity in an 18-month programme, only a short period is available for ORAT trials.  A taskforce comprising operations, construction managers and other stakeholders was established.  The first integrated baggage handling trial took place on September 24, 2009.  In total only eleven ORAT trials were conducted before the terminal became operational on November 9, 2009.  The Operations were transferred from the existing terminal in two stages, separated by a period of three days.  There were no major problems with ORAT; terminal operations commenced smoothly and were running efficiently within a month.
This schedule for ORAT may not be ideal – however, there were some mitigating circumstances that meant it was successful.  Various soft opening scenarios were possible for the new terminal, the transfer distance was not large and the existing terminals were available for fall back.  In addition, the resolution of conflicts between Operations and Construction Managers was assisted by the common Shareholding of the ISG Consortium and the JV.  This type of schedule for ORAT has also been adopted at previous airport openings in Turkey.
Ongoing and Future Development
Since taking over the existing airport on May 1, 2008, the ISG Consortium has successfully persuaded airlines to increase their operations at İstanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.  Currently the airport serves 61 destinations across 28 countries with 42 airlines.  Passenger traffic in 2009 was 6.6 million, up by 52% from the previous year – this at a time when most airports have seen a decline in traffic numbers.
The ISG Consortium is strongly supported by the Turkish Government.  Connectivity is being improved by the construction of a metro link and improvements to the road network.  In addition, SSM has commissioned a Master Plan study for Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.  This plan shows the development of an airport city with a technology park, residential areas, hotels, offices and hospitals.  The airfield will also grow through the expansions of the passenger aprons in 2011, the construction of a second runway in 2013, followed by the development of the Midfield area.
In conclusion, Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport has a bright future and, thanks to the rapid construction of the new terminal in 18 months, the ISG Consortium has more of its concession period left to enjoy the rewards of its investment.