Unforgettable Project Memories: 006

When 8,000 people come together…

By Eugene Cloete, Senior Associate Director

Often when we recall a project memory, the first thing our minds turn to is the project statistics, such as the project’s size, its complexity, how much it cost or how much more it cost and how much longer it took.

For me the King Shaka International Airport (‘KSIA’) was not an unforgettable project because of any sort of statistic, but because of the people involved in the project and how teams were created out of spirit, sheer commitment, dedication, sweat and toil, meeting impossible deadlines but most of all they were proud to be part of this Project.

The People:

It has been over a decade since the first flight landed at KSIA and it was the realisation of many hard-fought hours.

They say that it takes a village to raise a child, in this instance it took over 8000 dedicated, hardworking team members to build an international airport. An airport capable of receiving 7.5 million passengers within the first 5 years of opening and up to 45 million passengers by 2060.

The project consisted of a diverse team of individuals from all backgrounds and many of those backgrounds being intertwined prior to being recruited onto the project. Some were not fortunate to have had a favourable past and some had spent time in jail, but KSIA gave these people a second opportunity.

For some people their lives were changed quite dramatically due to the KSIA Project. The crime rate in Waterloo, for instance, had drastically dropped since the start of the Project.

Whilst most of the labour force came from communities close to the Project, some were seconded from other provinces and housed nearby. Workers also came from much further up and down the coast, some of which travelled by foot for 2 hours to get to work, others would row across a local dam and then walk, some would wake up at 04:00 in the morning to start work at 05:00 and then they would do the same in reverse to get home at the end of the working day, others moved countries or changed jobs.

Individuals and families sacrificed so much to ensure that the project was a success.

With the help of the local taxi association, which was supplied with three buses the airport / tradesport management workers were transported to and from the site each day. Other modes of transport included lift schemes, but those that were particularly energetic, preferred long rides by bike or daily walks covering distances of several kilometres.

Without all these sacrifices, KSIA would not have achieved what it did.

Giving people the additional skills also helped to boost the social-economic development of the surrounding areas where the labour force could share their skills and improve the lives of others. Socio-economic changes also included, but were definitely not limited to: mobile medical resources; the installation of trauma units in police stations; setting up computer labs and libraries in schools to benefit future generations.

The Project:

From about 1970 there had been a plan to build an international airport on the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Located approximately 35 kilometres north of the city of Durban. Following several delays, works on KSIA had commenced on 31 August 2007.

KSIA in numbers:

Materials Quantity
Runway & Taxiway pavements 400,000 m2
Terminal Building footprint 35,000 m2
Terminal Floor Area 103,000 m2
Earth to be moved 5.8 million m3
Concrete to be poured 100,000 m3
Structural Steel to be erected 4,7000 tonnes
Asphalt 230,000 tonnes
Electrical Cabling 700 km

The scope of works generally included a trade zone, cargo terminal, fire and rescue, terminal building, control tower, runways, taxiways, aprons, freeway interchange and associated access roads to the airport. Everything considered, about 40 different structures were required to be developed. 

All 8,000 people lived and breathed this project without becoming just a number, to achieve target completion on 30 March 2010, a duration of 31 months or a hair over 2.5 years. By comparison, I understand that it can take an average of 5 to 7 years to develop, commission and undertake trial operations of a typical airport. Therefore, it was a monumental achievement by everyone involved.

On 1 May 2010, KSIA opened its doors to passengers, and in early 2014, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380-800, landed at KSIA. Thereby demonstrating the flexibility and capabilities of what KSIA was designed to do.

The softer side of KSIA:

Absent all the structures and statistics, KSIA also had unique environmental challenges. The most memorable of these and one that I have never come across before was the use of a Bird Radar Detection System.  

The Bird Rader Detection System is used to provide real-time observations of barn swallow flocks, that use the reed beds, in the Umdloti Valley, to the south of KSIA, to roost. The barn swallows would roost in these reed beds from October to April every year.

The Bird Rader Detection System ultimately provides a clear understanding of the flight patterns of birds, in this instance, focusing on the specific movements of the barn swallows in and around KSIA.  

But, …. there were also snakes, which are not unique to KSIA or any project for that matter, but unique in the experience they provided.

Whilst some team members were out surveying the site (by car), they heard what sounded like large stones hitting the sides of their vehicle. It turned out that it was black mambas striking the vehicle. Black mambas were a common occurrence on site, estimated to be 4.5 meters long!!

For those that are reading this, and don’t know what a black mamba is, perhaps follow this link (Black mamba – Wikipedia).

Though most of us would rather eradicate some of the pests encountered the team and many of the labour force learned to respect and care for the environment, realising that the trees and animals should be for their children and their grandchildren to see.

If I had to sum up my experience on KSIA, I would say, as the change control manager on the project, that challenges (including extreme heat, humidity, so much rain that the Berea Red Sand came dangerously slimy and slippery in wet seasons) and changes, for that matter, were inevitable, but it was the way the project team and labour force faced those challenges that defined the people, the project, and set the course for a successful project outcome.  

Special thanks go to Illembe JV for the photo credits, facts and figures which were contained in the “You Made A Difference” Project Book.
2021-07-08T01:06:14+00:00 March 16th, 2021|News, People, Unforgettable Project Memories|0 Comments