International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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From Take-Off to Landing – the Application of Ecological Knowledge at a Major Airport Development in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Christopher Drew 1 & Graham Bland 2

1 Presenting Author: Environmental Construction Manager, Parsons International Limited, Abu Dhabi, UAE

2 Programme Director, SCADIA, Abu Dhabi, UAE



Abu Dhabi International Airport is currently undergoing a major expansion. The Supervision Committee for the expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport (SCADIA) is responsible for the development; which includes a second 4100 metre parallel runway, new midfield passenger terminal, air traffic control tower complex, cargo, catering and maintenance facilities.

Carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and working in accordance with an approved Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) were not only legal requirements but formed an integral part of the overall expansion programme. Information from the various components of the EIA study has been integrated into the design and construction philosophy of many of the major projects. Having a good understanding of arid land ecology, ecosystem function and of some of the species that live within the airport boundaries has allowed the construction to proceed in a manner that has sought to reduce and mitigate against damage wherever possible.

Through collaborating with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), wildlife species such as the spiny tailed lizard (Uromastyx leptieni), desert hare (Lepus capensis) and Ethiopian hedgehog (Hemiechinus aethiopicus) have been translocated. Some areas of habitat have been studied extensively to facilitate future restoration as part of the proposed xeriscaping of the midfield terminal development project. This has included the transplantation of some desert shrubs, primarily Calligonum comosum and Leptadenia pyrotechnica, that were growing within areas due to be cleared for construction. Furthermore, as part of the commitment made to replace all mature trees that were removed from plantations within the airport boundary, a thorough study will be carried out to ensure that the green belt planned for the airport perimeter is sustainable in terms of water usage – i.e. species with low water requirements will be planted and irrigated appropriately with either treated waste water or grey water directly from the on-site facilities.

Knowledge of the ecology and behaviour of migratory and resident bird species occurring at some of the wet areas within and around the airport will be used to ensure that a thorough bird strike risk assessment is carried out and that the design of water features incorporates measures to ensure that they do not serve to attract unwanted bird species.

The expansion programme at Abu Dhabi International Airport provides an example of how an understanding of the ecology of a development site has been translated into direct action that will improve the process and the end product of a major construction project.