Preparing for take-off

With the installation of MEP services now underway on three terminals at Dubai International Airport, Alison Luke takes a trip landside to find out what it takes to prepare for the future of air travel.


With almost 21,000 flights a month passing through Dubai International Airport (DIA), the need to keep operations running is vital. Getting the aircraft and passengers safely through the airport is the number one priority and any secondary work being carried out must comply with strict requirements to make sure that there is no interruption to this service.

This can be a complex process even for small maintenance jobs, so the task facing those involved in the current works at DIA is enormous. The rise in demand for flights both into and through Dubai has led to the major expansion of the two existing terminals, with the addition of a third terminal underway.

Both passenger and back-of-house areas must be enlarged to cope with the increased numbers of passengers. Extra luggage conveyor belts and new security systems are among the systems that have to be upgraded, all of which have added to the need for major MEP installations.


“The expansion of concourse two and terminal three [alone] is the biggest, single MEP package in Dubai and Middle Eastern history, being worth 1.6 billion Dirhams,” states Anil Damoder, project manager for MEP contractor Thermo.

Thermo is employing a dedicated team for the terminal three works package; however the extent of the firm’s work at DIA stretches much further. Damoder himself has been heading up a Thermo team at the site for over 10 years, working on various different works packages over this period. Two of the largest of these have been the expansion projects for Terminals One and Two.

Damoder’s team is responsible for the full MEP works on both jobs, which are valued at US$13.6 million (AED50 million) and $21.8 million (AED80 million) respectively. This includes the installation of special airport systems such as passenger displays as well as extra low voltage (elv) systems.

The two jobs have been carried out concurrently – the terminal one works began in December 2005 and are scheduled for handover on 31 March 2007; the terminal two expansion started in November 2006 and MEP works are due to be completed in November 2007.

Both expansions involve the addition of baggage carousels and passenger areas as well as official airport areas such as immigration and customs. In Terminal One, three baggage conveyors have been added, bringing the total to ten.

Terminal One is constructed over three levels, with the main MEP plant being installed on the roof. This includes 17 air handling units (ahus), a chilled water system that involves the pumps tapping into the existing circulation source, and the erection of a new substation, central emergency system and ring main unit (rmu) for the electrical system upgrade.

All rmus are controlled and monitored by a SCADA system, so in the event of an emergency occurring an individual circuit-breaker can be shut down from a central control station. “The total load [on Terminal One] will be changed, with an additional load of 3000kW,” states Damoder. This medium-voltage network has been connected to the existing central utility complex (cuc).

The 2010kW cooling capacity of the Terminal Two expansion will be met by 13 ahus and nine circulating pumps.

DIA includes several electrical ring main circuits into which Thermo is tapping to provide the additional supply. The number and capacity of the plant in the central utility complexes has also increased to cater for the changes and the substations have been upgraded. “We needed a new substation of 3000kW capacity for the Terminal One expansion to feed the new conveyors and other areas,” explains Damoder.

“For Terminal Two we are also building another substation for the additional 2500kW load needed,” he adds. The main 132kVA power supply is provided by DEWA.

“In terms of design concept [the Terminal One and Two extensions] are almost the same,” explains Damoder. Because of this, Thermo has intentionally maintained its team from the first project to enable a faster installation process on the latter works, the learning curve having already been overcome. “On Terminal Two we are in the initial stages, the engineering part,” explains Damoder, “so as Terminal One finishes I can gradually move the people there.” The firm’s Terminal Two on-site works began in mid-February.

The initial engineering phase includes the completion of shop drawings, technical submittals and product procurement. “95% of the technical job is completed before starting on site,” explains Damoder. “We started the Terminal Two expansion in November, it’s now into February and we have not started a single screw on site – pre-construction activities [on the airport work] take one-third of the project duration,” he stresses.

This up-front work is necessary to ensure all programmes are co-ordinated with the other construction teams on site, so that safety levels are maintained, tight programmes can be met and the project is carried out to the client’s approval.

The areas of work on the project are split into two definite parts: refurbishment of the existing areas and construction of the extensions. These each have their individual requirements for the MEP installation, so Thermo has assigned separate teams to each, but common threads are quality, safety and maintaining the operation of the airport.

The very nature of the job means that safety measures are more stringent than on a standard construction project. In the existing areas, the presence of the public adds to the potential risks that must be considered. “We have to schedule our work so it will not disturb [the airport] operation; it is busy in the morning up to 10.30, the other peak time is at night,” explains Damoder. Permission has to be granted before any work is carried out in these areas and this is strictly controlled, making the need for close co-ordination even more important.

Damoder stresses that the quality of products, materials and build are closely monitored by Dubai Civil Aviation (DCA). “It may be a product that everybody in the UAE is using, but if you want to use it in the airport you must get a sample approved,” he stresses. “All suppliers cannot meet with this specification. In the DCA specification, documentation is very important… the client is looking not only at the cost, but the brand and the supplier’s experience in the field and whether [the product] complies with the new technologies being used,” he adds.

The supplier’s credentials are also under scrutiny: “Whoever supplies materials to the airport authority must be available within 24 hours,” explains Damoder, “That means you have to find someone who has a local agent and the technical quality that can be approved by the DCA,” Damoder adds.

Mock-ups of each product used, for example light-fittings, are being completed and submitted for client approval before proceeding to full installation. The installation methods are also submitted for technical approval, with methods used considering seismic movements.

The MEP installation in Terminal Two is being carried out in four phases. Phases one and two involve upgrading of systems in the existing building. At phase three the teams move into the new-build.

Distribution of the services is above ceiling; this again has specific requirements. Each MEP component, such as power, fire alarms or building management system is individually contained and colour-coded for ease of future identification. “It must all be identified and levelled according to the scheme [provided by the DCA],” stresses Damoder. “This is for safety, because in future if you want to do some modifications everything can be easily identified from the coloured bindings.”

With the upgrade of the airport continuing, this added measure of safety and quality seems to be a decision well made.

Airport Datasheet

Project: Dubai International Airport Expansion Projects (AX431 & AX272F)
Client: Department of Civil Aviation
Main contractor: HMR & Group Five Construction
Architect: ADPi & DAR (JV)
M&E consulting engineer: ADPi & DAR (JV)
MEP contractor: Thermo
Lighting designer: Thermo

Contract details

Construction start date: 11 January 2006 and 12 November 2006
Contract period: 355 days and 365 days
Completion date: 31 December 2006 and 12 November 2007


AHUs: York, Klimak
Air conditioning: Carrier
BMS: Siemens, Invensys
Cable: Ducab Cable management: Wiremold
Control valves: Fluid
Control Controls: Invensys
Ductwork: Gmamco
Electrical accessories: Wiremold
Electrical distribution: Merlin Gerin
Emergency luminaries: Ceag
Extract fans: Penn Ventilators
Fan coil units: York
Fire alarm/detection: Edwards
Floor boxes: MK, EGA
HV switchgear: ABB Industries
Insulation: K-Flex Lighting controls: Telemechanique
LV switchgear: Merlin Gerin
Power busbar: Cutler Hammer
Public address system: Bosch, Philips
Pumps: Armstrong Security equipment: Honeywell
Sound attenuation: Gmamco
Sprinklers: Reliable
Standby generation: Caterpillar
UPS: Liebert
VAV boxes: Nailor Industries
Voice & data equipment: Nordx/CDT
Water heaters: Ariston

MEP services cost: AED 50 million (AX431); AED 80 million (AX272F)

"The expansion of terminal three is the biggest, single MEP package in Dubai and Middle Eastern history, being worth 1.6 billion Dirhams."


"The very nature of the job means that safety standards are more stringent...the presence of the public adds to the potential risks that must be considered."

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