Global Airport Construction Projects Amidst Pandemic

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) latest forecast for the global aviation industry was that it was set to double to over 8 billion passengers by 2037.Construction of major airports were geared to meet increased passenger demand in 2020. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the global travel industry and put a halt to projects. Regaining the same volume of passengers would be a challenge. So where do airport projects stand in terms of construction progress now?

With the outbreak of COVID-19, travel and aviation has been amongst the most impacted industries as countries closed borders, suspended flights, and imposed strict travel restrictions as part of their pandemic containment measures. According to the IATA, job losses in the MENA region in the aviation and related industries are set to reach 1.5 million. That is more than half of the region’s 2.4 million aviation-related employment. Latest data from the International Air Transport Association shows that the total global revenue-passenger-kilometres had fallen by 79.8% on a year-on-year basis. Although the pandemic created severe short-term financial pressures for the travel industry, ongoing construction of airports have not been affected and things are starting to recover with regards to the global demand for air transport.


Global – Airport, Construction Project Pipeline, Projected Spending by Stage (US$ million)

In the ME region, significant airport expansion programs have been spurred by demand coming from the growth of national carriers, but also the geographic proximity to major source markets such as Asia. Geographical location and favorable regulatory environment have led to the development of airport hubs, which are catering to some of the largest movements of passenger and cargo traffic globally. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries; for example, have strategies to develop as preferred travel destinations. They are making significant investments into the development of tourism and hospitality infrastructure including airport expansions to increase the handling capacity of the anticipated visitor inflow. A clear trend in the Gulf region is the focus on innovation, harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) and data to improve the use of infrastructure.

Although the COVID-19 crisis has created severe short-term financial pressure on airport operators, the potential for a recovery in global demand in the long-term and a return of any pre-COVID-19 challenges in capacity means that airports expansions will still proceed in many markets. GlobalData is currently tracking airport construction projects globally with a combined value of US$826.5 billion. Asia-Pacific accounts for the major share of the projects value, with US$283.9 billion of airport projects, ahead of the Middle East and Africa (MEA) with US$226.3 billion thanks to Public investment is responsible for the funding of the highest proportion of projects, with 67%, followed by joint public/private with 30%.

Airport construction projects that are already at execution stage account for a large proportion of the overall pipeline at 57%. Projects that are at the pre-execution stage – comprising of only design, tender, and contract – account for 15%.

Kuwait International Project – picture by NFT

Looking at Kuwait as an example, NFT in 2017 had been awarded to supply and installation of 26 Potain tower cranes for the construction of the new International Airport, a project worth 4.34 billion dollars. The 26 tower cranes include 18 units of MD 365, 6 units of MD 1100 and 2 units of MC 125.  As of date, the project is progressing beautifully. The government has taken steps to expedite the implementation of works despite the COVID-19 outbreak and the strict lockdown imposed throughout the gulf state noting that workers engaged in the T2 project are residing next to the site of the building. T2, scheduled to be completed by 2023, is envisaged as a regional travel hub.

Global – Airport, Construction Project Pipeline, Top 10 Countries by Value and Stage (US$ million)

 Saudi Arabia leads with the highest value project pipeline, with a value of US$65.5 billion, equivalent to 35.9% of the GCC total and 29% of the regional total. The highest value project is the three-stage expansion project for the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Saudi Arabia. The project started in 2006, designed to increase the capacity of the airport from 13 million to 80 million passengers per year.

Airport City Project

 Alongside the airport is Airport City which will be a world-class, mixed-use development adjacent to Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, and will become a leading destination for visitors from across Saudi Arabia and the GCC region. The 1.91 million m² GBA masterplan for Airport City introduces an innovative mixed-use community concept to the region, creating diverse tourism and business opportunities while also providing a dynamic lifestyle and family entertainment venue. The development will be directly in front of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, acting as a new hub gateway to Jeddah and beyond at the strategically important meeting point of the airport, the high-speed railway station to Makkah and Medina and the motorway junction between central Jeddah and the city’s Northern Expansion Zone.


With US$138.6 billion, the US has the highest value of construction projects in EXECUTION.

The Americas – Airport, Construction Project Pipeline, Value by Stage (US$ million)

In the US, where there is considerable activity on expanding existing airport infrastructure, many projects have been either put on hold or scaled back; these include projects such as the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the Jacksonville International Airport and the Tampa International Airport. Meanwhile, some parts of the expansion of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport, including the hotel that has been planned for many years, have been delayed while the construction of the new five gates to the Concourse T has been accelerated. Moreover, in Florida, the state’s airport authority reduced the expansion of the US$2.7 billion airport project from 19 gates to 15 gates, while in California, developers postponed the construction of a US$1 billion terminal at San Francisco International Airport for six months. Construction of the terminal was previously scheduled to start in June 2020.

Nonetheless, many construction projects at some major airports have been sped up as authorities take advantage of the quiet time to fast track projects while fewer passenger are present. Among the projects are the LaGuardia Airport in New York, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the Chattanooga Airport in Tennessee.


Asia-Pacific markets remain the largest for air travel, accounting for 34.6% of the global market in July 2020. As economies are slowly bouncing back, air travel activities in 2021 are set to recover driven by rapid population growth in the region, coupled with economic growth, will continue to expand the affluent middle-class market, which will underpin long-term demand for air travel.

The highest value airport project in the region is the US$18.3 billion Hong Kong International Airport Three-Runway System (3RS), which involves the construction of a new runway that would involve reclamation of around 650ha of land on Chek Lap Kok Island, Hong Kong.

The 3RS project is more than a new runway. Its scale is almost equivalent to building a new airport next to the existing one. It involves:

  • Reclamation of approximately 650 hectares of land north of the existing airport island (equivalent to 34 Victoria Parks, or 100 artificial islands for the New Wing of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre). Non-dredge methods, including deep cement mixing technique will be used for reclamation.
  • Building the Third Runway Passenger Building with more than 280,000 square metres of floor area, a total of 57 new parking positions (frontal: 34, remote: 23) and an apron.
  • Building a 3,800-metre-long new runway and its supporting taxiway systems. The existing north runway will also be reconfigured.
  • Building a 2,600-metre-long new Automated People Mover (APM) system connecting Terminal 2 with the new passenger building. This new APM system travels at a top speed of 80km/h and would take 2.5 minutes to travel from Terminal 2 to the new passenger building. It can transport up to 10,800 passengers per hour.
  • Building a new Baggage Handling System (BHS) linking Terminal 2 with the new passenger building with a baggage transport speed of 7 to 10m/sec.
  • Expansion of the existing Terminal 2 to provide arrivals, departures and full-fledged passenger services.
  • Construction of other associated airport support infrastructure, road network and transportation facilities.


Europe is a mature market for air transport, with slow growth and activity based on upgrading or expanding existing airport facilities. The COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent travel restrictions imposed across much of Europe severely hampered air traffic in the first half of the year. The Airport Council International Europe (ACI-Europe) reported that passenger air traffic decreased by 96.4% in the second quarter of the year. During the peak of the virus outbreak in April, airport passenger traffic fell by 99% on a year on year basis in Europe, however the situation has somewhat improved over the last few months with the ACI reporting a 69% fall in airport traffic in August.

With a high risk of a second wave of inflections later this year, flight restrictions are set to remain in place until the virus subsides or a vaccine is found. This will come as a major blow to the airports across the continent which are among the most popular in the world. ACI-Europe registered passenger traffic of 2.4 billon through Europe’s airports in 2019, up by 32.3% since 2014. The figures released for 2019 by the ACI show freight traffic declined by -1.9%, while aircrafts movements increased by 1.1%. The top five European airports in 2019 by passenger traffic were London (LHR) with 80.8 million, Paris (CDG) with 76.2 million, Amsterdam (AMS) with 71.7 million, Frankfurt (FRA) with 70.5 million and Istanbul (IST) with 68.5 million.

Europe – Airport, Construction Project Pipeline, Top 10 Countries by Funding Mode (% of Total Pipeline Value)

 The only high value project in Europe is the US$36.4 billion Istanbul New Airport, which is 40km away from the center of Istanbul, and would be the third airport in the city. The second highest value project in the region is the US$18.2 billion Heathrow Airport Expansion, which involves the construction of a 3,500m long third runway at Heathrow Airport in London. The project is set to begin at the end of 2021 and is expected to be completed by 2026.

With the economy slowly starting to recover, airport construction projects that were halted will resume and already on-going projects – whether in execution or pre-execution stage – will see a boom in passenger management efficiency.



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Top 4 reasons behind Tower Crane accidents and Measures to take to help prevent them from happening

Following the latest inspections by Abu Dhabi Municipality, we thought it useful to address the topic of tower crane safety.  Health and safety inspectors in Abu Dhabi have been on a campaign to impose strict compliance with safety regulations at site. Hundreds of building sites each month have received a visit from the government authority to help protect workers operating at dizzying heights. The inspectors assess all the slip-ups around scaffolds and tower cranes to ensure the workers are not at risk of falls or being hit by falling objects. They have also been examining resting areas on construction sites and also check whether workers are given personal protective equipment such as helmets and hard-soled, slip-resistant shoes, and face masks and gloves to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

Working at height poses risk regardless of the equipment. However, with tower cranes, because it involves people and material working at significant height and free floating in the air on top of buildings, roads, and people – the risk is noteworthy. If we take the US as an example, 8% of the country’s workforce is in the construction industry yet, of all of the work-related deaths each year, the construction industry accounts for more than 22%. What’s more, construction workers are 71% more likely to suffer serious and life-changing injuries when compared with all employees in other industries put together. When we look at where these accidents are happening, crane accidents and falls are the leading causes of death in the industry.

Around the world, each year there are around 30 major accidents involving tower cranes causing an average of 50 deaths per year (maybe even higher as some countries are not reporting their accidents). These figures are staggering considering they can be avoided. In this article, we explore the top reasons, statistically, for tower crane accidents. We then look at the different active and reactive measures contractors can take to prevent accidents from happening.

Reasons behind tower crane accidents

Erection/Dismantle and Climbing: These factors account for 42% of tower crane accidents. The main reasons behind this is the failure to understand the load required for the mobile crane and to properly follow instructions of erection, dismantling, jacking up indicated by the manufacturer.

In Operation: 27% of accidents occur ‘in operation’, as in while the tower crane is working. Reasons driving this are lack of proper maintenance causing mechanical or electrical malfunctions, structural failures.

Operator Error: 13% of accidents occur due to an error by the tower crane operator. In many countries like in UK or South Korea, the tower crane operator is certified just like you would any engineer. A lot of training and assessment goes into allowing operators to be on site. When accidents happen due to operator mistake, the primary assumption is that the operator did not receive proper, up to date certification or training. Other reasons could be bad visibility from weather or for not respecting the manufacturer’s instructions or tampering with safety limits. This is why it is essential for tower crane operators to be trained and certified. The tower crane operators ideally would need to be trained enough to do daily checks for preventive maintenance.

‘Mother Nature’: 10% of tower crane accidents are caused by earthquakes and wind. Wind is probably the biggest enemy of tower cranes. It is noteworthy however that some of the accidents from wind might be due to the operator not properly shutting down the crane. Wind is the most important element to consider followed by soil. This is why each tower crane configuration will depend on the wind level of the country in which it is operating in. For Potain for example, we have catalogues based on the Wind Codes that follow that FEM, C25, D25, C50, D50, E50, among others. Depending on the country’s wind code, the tower crane configuration will change.

Because of the importance of wind, NFT has a Technical Design department specialized in studying every project based on wind, load and soil bearing capacity with tower crane configuration and location. Proper planning and wind code knowledge is key to choosing the right machine in the right configuration.

According to FEM 1004 Edition 07/2000

Wind is more important to be considered during ‘Crane out of service’ than during operation. Indeed, sites surroundings have a strong influence on wind behavior. Special studies are required in some cases by third parties and contractors/suppliers need to follow new wind code regulations at all times.

Important: the wind speed indicated during installation/dismantling or jacking up (around 50 KM/H depending on the country), should be less than the wind speed allowed  during service (around 72 KM/H depending on the country)- however this is just the mean wind speed and can be exceeding in gusts. The surface area of loads exposed to wind is considered as less than or equal to 1 sq. m/t. If this value is exceeded, the service or ”operating” wind speed should be restricted to less than 72 km/h.


Unknown: 8% of accidents reported between 2000 and 2009 had unknown causes. They fall into this category either because there isn’t enough information.

Close calls: Unfortunately, it is common to see unsafe tower crane practices and close calls. If you ask someone who has been working in this industry for a number of decades they will tell you that things are the same as they always have been.

Tower cranes do not have complexities in their design. They are basic in principle and their operating principles and erection procedures have not changed very much at all in the last 30 years. Despite this, there still continues to be tower crane accidents but it has to be said that a lot of these are completely avoidable.

Accident Example New York City, 2012

In 2012, a tower crane at the World Trade Center sent its load crashing down from 40 stores high. Thankfully it crashed back down onto the truck that it had just been hoisted from and there were no reported injuries. The load being carried weighed 40,000 pounds (18,000 kg). This type of crane can hoist up to 18,000 kg on a single-line pull and can move 190 meters each minute. So what was the reason why this crane shed its load in such a dramatic way?

In October 2011, it was reported that there was a rope that was rubbing at a bolt. When simple rubbing occurs, it doesn’t mean anything needs to be replaced. If an individual wire is flattened to two-thirds its original diameter, we can consider the wire to be broken. Crown breaks would also be determined as broken so this would have been sorted out. It leads us to ask if the company that replaced the cable didn’t deal with the cause of the rubbing. But we must also presume that the crane had been inspected after this point too and so it would have been spotted. Could the wrong rope have been installed? Load lines for tower cranes are designed at a ratio of 5:1, which means that if you have an 18,000 kg capacity on a line pull, you would need a rope that 91,000 kg capacity. The reasons aren’t clear but what is certain is that you should never miss a daily crane inspection!

Measures to be taken to Prevent Tower Crane Accidents

Tower crane accidents are rarely minor occurrences. When a tower crane comes crashing down, there are serious consequences for all involved. That said, there are many things you can do to help prevent tower crane accidents. As described , The vast majority of tower crane accidents are down to human error. The technology of tower cranes is pretty much the same as it was decades ago yet they are still a huge cause of fatalities in the workplace. However, there are several measures that can be put into place to make working with tower cranes much safer.

Preventive Measures

Before using any crane, it should be inspected thoroughly by a qualified person. Training the tower crane operator to do daily maintenance checks is extremely beneficial and efficient.

The structure itself must have a more thorough inspection regularly to determine whether it has worn-out ropes, faulty wiring, a crack or any damaged part that could lead to an accident. If it is noticed that something is damaged, the modification or repair must be done by a tower crane technician that has the qualifications and experience.

The foundation is an integral part of the tower crane as it is what holds the crane steady. It’s important that the tower crane’s foundation and structural supports are designed by either a professional structural engineer, specialized in foundation design. At NFT we always encourage contractors to have the foundation designed for an expert who will follow the manufacturer’s manual and recommendations and design based on reactions provided by the manufacturer. If there is concrete in the foundation for fixing angle, the design of the concrete needs to be done by an expert and is the sole responsibility of the contractor.

During Operations

When more than one tower crane are working simultaneously, it is important to add anti-collision or to study the location and configuration of these cranes to avoid collision. In general, the location of the tower cranes not only depends on the radius coverage and construction plan, but also the location vis-à-vis the site: example cranes must be at least 3 meters (10 ft) away from any electrical cables.

In terms of load, the crane should not carry more than it is designed for. The operator should make sure the safety device on the crane is functioning properly.

Load setting should be carried out by a rigger who has the necessary qualifications and experience. Many accidents happen because of lack of proper communication between rigger and operator. Contractors should ensure that these two parties are interdependently working together.

Regular Maintenance

Poor maintenance inevitably leads to mechanical failures. Many accidents could be prevented with proper preventive maintenance. Indeed, absence or poor maintenance will lead to:

  1. Lower productivity
  2. Uncontrolled movements
  3. Risk on Safety of the operators (crane drivers, fitters, technician)
  4. Fall of the load
  5. Fall of the Crane

When doing preventive maintenance, the specialized tower crane technician needs to check for:

Control : Aspect, corrosion, wear, deformation, excessive play of assembly, noise, vibrations, presence of filings, lack of lubrication, electric insulation, connections, cabling, watertightness.

Measures : Dimension of the borings of the assemblies by axes, state of rolling way, dimension of the axes, play of the axes of articulation, play of the mechanical assemblies, the dimension of axles and coupling, analysis of lubricants …

Criteria: State, deformation, out of quotation, excessive play, insufficient thickness, unsatisfactory functioning …

Recommendation : Repair, restoration or replacement of the defective components…

Avoid counterfeit parts

When choosing a tower crane or a tower crane part, brand quality is key. Many contractors opt for cheap / quick options in order to save time and money. However by doing so they are putting their site and their people at risk. This tunnel vision focuses on short term gains but in the long run, counterfeit parts will bring huge risk with very little gain! We recommend working with dealers who provided genuine parts from the manufacturer.

As a general note, when making a purchase – Don’t forget:

  • The choice of a reputable brand
  • Tower crane set up and commissioning
  • Tower Crane operation and usage
  • Planning and study of all macro and micro factors
  • Maintenance
  • OEM spare parts
  • Brand awareness and resale value
  • Training and education
  • Price is not the only determinant for ROI

Proper training

Proper and continuous training for all those working around tower cranes will minimize human error. Contractors will benefit from making sure their teams are up to date with the latest certifications – investing in your people will reap benefits beyond any cost.

The Safety First! Campaign from November 2017 until Spring 2019 allowed NFT and Potain to go around client sites of NFT in the UAE, KSA and Kuwait, that have a large volume of tower cranes to raise awareness on safety practices. This was an initiative that NFT and Potain took on without any cost implications on clients because it was important to ensure that the basics of safety around tower cranes were applied. The Safety First! Campaign allowed NFT’s QHSE, Operations Managers and Potain’s top management to have direct and on the ground interaction with all those involved with the tower cranes. During the twenty-minute induction on how to work safely on Potain Tower Cranes, operator, riggers and supervisors learn the importance of daily checks, proper communication, wind effect as well as load handling; they also learn what to do during extreme weather conditions, the start and end of a shift, how to conduct basic maintenance checks and how to solve basic breakdowns. Each person was handed a bag with basic PPE and Potain’s Tower Crane safety booklet that is translated into five languages: Urdu, Hindi, Arabia, Turkish and English.