The sky’s the limit

The Red Bull Air Race debuted in Abu Dhabi last year to a thunderous response. The event returns to the Middle East once again in 2006 and organisers have carefully planned an airtight logistics strategy to ensure the Air Race is a high-flying success.

  • E-Mail
By  Robeel Haq Published  March 5, 2006

|~|redbull2.jpg|~|Ahmed Shehi, managing director, Sports Stars, the Middle East organiser of Red Bull Air Race.|~|Abu Dhabi hosted the first ever Red Bull Air Race last year, attracting an impressive crowd of 200,000 people. Hailed a success by organisers, the event quickly became one of the UAE’s biggest social events of the year. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Red Bull has once again chosen Abu Dhabi to kick-start the 2006 Air Race series, which also includes venues in the United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey, America and Australia. The logistics involved in organising such a large-scale event are complicated. A full time team of logistics professionals is responsible for carefully planning every detail, including the transportation arrangements, storage requirements, and the rigging and de-rigging of planes. “This is a huge event and we cannot leave things until the last minute,” says Ahmed Shehi, managing director, Sports Stars, the Middle East organiser of Red Bull Air Race. “The logistics team spend months planning every single detail to ensure the planes and equipment arrive in Abu Dhabi on time and in immaculate condition.” The logistics team handles 140 tons of cargo in total, which is transported to ten different locations throughout the world. The cargo mainly consists of the airplanes used during the races, which are dismantled and packed into special containers before being transported by air and sea to Abu Dhabi. The dismantling process involves removing the wings, rudder, elevator and propeller, which is a time-consuming task requiring specialist knowledge and skills. “This type of aircraft is very small,” says Shehi. “In the case of Abu Dhabi, they are arriving from Europe, which is a long journey. Flying directly to the venue is not practical because the planes would need to stop several times along the way for refuelling, which increasing the costs, affects the engine, and complicates the logistics further in terms of the paper work and legal requirements necessary to stop at various different countries.” In addition to the planes being moved around the world, a large amount of equipment is also shifted from location to location. This includes a race control tower, media centre, energy station, hangar, television and communication material, air gates and video walls. The cargo is very expensive and making sure everything is transported safely is essential. Red Bull has developed a specially designed trailer, which makes it easier to transport each of the planes. “The planes and equipment are worth large amounts of money,” says Shehi. “If something gets damaged during transportation, the financial impact is heavy. Also, it could negatively affect time keeping, because we need to repair or replace items, which takes time. Therefore, everything should be securely packed.” There are specific fittings in the trailer that accommodate the wings, rudder and elevator, so that there is absolutely no risk of damaging any of the parts. These trailers are designed to meet the requirements of transportation by sea container, airfreight or land vehicles, making the logistics process much smoother. “It is impossible to completely guarantee nothing is damaged during transportation, but we have gained experience from the previous Air Race and implemented measures to reduce the risk considerably,” says Shehi. The 140 tons worth of cargo is enough to fill 26 containers measuring 40ft each, or four full loads of a Boeing 747 cargo airplane. This means a massive plane is required to handle the airfreight. In fact, organisers of the Air Race have selected the largest cargo airplane in the world, the Antonov 124, which will be used to transport some of the equipment to the Abu Dhabi race. The long-range freighter is widely used for the carriage of outsize and very heavy pieces of air cargo, which no other aircraft can accommodate. The design and dimensions of the aircraft’s forward and rear cargo doors, both equipped with ramps, enables quick loading and unloading operations without the need for ground cargo handling equipment. Once the cargo arrives at Abu Dhabi International Airport, it is transferred into a fleet of trucks and taken to a nearby private airport. Organisers of the Red Bull Air Race hire a third party logistics provider to handle this task. Three trucks are required just for the tower and the energy station, not including the containers of airplane parts. “The logistics of the Air Race is complex, so we need to ensure the third party logistics provider has the necessary resources to handle the task efficiently,” says Shehi. “This requires a lot of advance notice and it might not be practical to use the same 3PL every year.” Once the cargo arrives in the private airport, the items are carefully unpacked and stored. The specialist team of mechanics will start work on reassembling the planes, which requires a total of two days work. A testing process then begins, to make sure the planes are working without any problems and fully ready for the big event. “The planes start arriving around 15 days before the race takes place,” says Shehi. “This gives us time to reassemble the aircraft and start the testing process. We then have practice sessions for the pilots to familiarise themselves with the Abu Dhabi racetrack four days before the event happens. The other equipment is also set up at the same time.” Amongst the other equipment being transported is a specially built race control tower, which is the nerve centre of the Air Races. This weighs 25 tons and is rebuilt for each race, which takes two days, or three including the installation of the electronics system. The tower has room for up to 250 people and is fitted with state-of-the-art equipment like a master control room for the event production, a graphic control room for TV, video walls and live stream broadcasts on the internet, a media office and all the facilities necessary for the supervision of the race. The tower also controls everything to do with timekeeping, which is done through a LPM wave reflection system, which is an extremely precise GPS system used in a limited area. Every plane is equipped with a transponder, which broadcasts data to the base. With this system it is possible to get a fix on any given plane 1000 times a second, and the transmitted data not only enables precise timekeeping, but also ascertains current speed, the G forces, the pilot’s heart rate and other information. Last year, the Red Bull Air Race in Abu Dhabi attracted 200,000 visitors, which the organisers claim is the largest spectator event in the history of the UAE. The event involves some of the fastest race pilots in the world competing against each other on a track measuring 1.4km in length, reaching speeds of 400 km/h only a few metres above the ground. “It’s a very exciting moment when the event takes place,” says Shehi. “After working so hard on the logistics and other parts of the organising, we finally watch the end result unfold in front of a huge crowd of people. Afterwards, its time to think about the next stage of the logistics, which involves transporting everything back to Europe.” After the event takes place, the planes and equipment are once again transported to the private airport and the team of mechanics start to disassemble the planes, which takes roughly three days. “The aircrafts are de-rigged, the equipment placed back into containers, and everything is transported from the private airport to Abu Dhabi International Airport by the 3PL,” says Shehi. “Under normal circumstances, everything is sent back to the original source in Europe and prepared for the next race. After Abu Dhabi, the following event takes place in Miami.” Before sending everything back, the logistics team must handle the final custom regulations. Every shipment must leave the country in exactly the same shape it arrived. For example, once the planes have been put back together, each one must have its certificate of airworthiness renewed by authorised technicians. Due to some of the short time frames between races, a slick and seamless operation is particularly important for this part of the logistics process. “Careful pre-planning is a key component in the Air Race’s logistics,” concludes Shehi. “Although last minute changes are always likely to occur for such large scale events, we can make sure we are ready for the worst case scenarios. In fact, I think the red Bull Air Race logistics team must remain as fast and focused as the actual pilots!”||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code