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New Islamabad airport The airport to nowhere

New Islamabad airport: The airport to nowhere

ISLAMABAD: Megaprojects like construction of airports have a reputation for going off the rails and missing performance targets related to cost and schedule. But the new Islamabad airport project is not only getting into hot waters for cost overruns and delays but also for major technical blunders in design, including lack of support for concurrent landing or taking off of two aircraft.

To add insult to the injury, it was disclosed recently that the majority of hired foreign consultants were not even engineers.

New Islamabad airport embroiled in problems

So the question of the hour is: is the new Islamabad airport another example of ‘pork barrel politics’ or is it just another megaproject failure in the making?

It is true that managing megaprojects is easier said than done but what is more fascinating is that that these blunders are windows into the world of project management that can serve as valuable lessons for future ventures.


Weak project oversight and no project life cycle means ‘a call for disaster’

It is generally a good practice that the concerned ministry should prepare PC-1 in consultation with other stakeholders and not delegate the task to external consultants.

However, the Louis Berger Group (LBG) USA and their local partner, Engineering Consultants International (ECIL) Karachi were engaged by CAA prior to the formal approval of PC-1 from the Planning Commission.

They were, in fact, entrusted with the job to prepare draft PC-1 including engineering drawings and contract documents. The PC-1 was later found to be inconsistent with the feasibility report which is a criminal negligence on the part of the planning personnel.

Unfortunately, no project lifecycle was ever strictly followed and a typical ad-hoc approach was adopted. The project directorate made some poor decisions such as conversion of parallel taxiway into secondary runway.

Due to lack of a system of management by exception and a naive project board, such decisions were executed without any oversight.

No end in sight for new Islamabad airport

The CAA even delegated the job of evaluation of bids for design consultants to LBG and later to another firm named Meinhardt.

Incompetent/corrupt partner can put project in dire straits

The firm Louis Berger Group is quite notorious for its corrupt practices and was debarred by the World Bank in 2015 for payments to officials in Vietnam.

Louis Berger paid around $1 million in bribes to Indian official for award of two projects in Goa and Guwahati. James McClung, previously a senior vice president for firm’s Indian operations, was accused of bribing an Indian minister.

Earlier in 2010, LBG paid $70 million to settle charges of fraud in Afghan infrastructure projects – not to mention similar scandals in Kuwait and Indonesia.

Interestingly, the same James McClung, who was charged with felony bribery in India, was the main engineering representative of LBG for the new Islamabad airport project.

Poor requirements engineering leads
to scope creep

Ballpark figures were used in PC-1 which originally amounted to roughly Rs37 billion.

A parametric cost model derived from the cost structure of Rs10 billion Lahore airport would have forecasted an approximate budget of Rs20-26 billion for the new Islamabad airport after inflation adjustment.

Therefore, a proposed budget of Rs37 billion was supposed to have sufficient financial reserve. However, many essential components of project scope were missed from project digest including air traffic control complex, refuelling system, lightning system, sewerage treatment system, power distribution and telecom network systems.

Islamabad airport to be completed by year-end, Senate told

By the time, the deficiencies in PC-1 were realised, project costs had escalated from Rs37 billion to Rs81 billion which are now forecasted to touch the ‘Rs100 billion mark’. The revised PC-1 still does not include water supply, electricity distribution and additional land purchase costs.

What exactly do we learn from these mistakes? Given history, it seems, not much.

The writer is a Cambridge graduate and is working as a management consultant

Courtesy : Express Tribune



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