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Extending an airport runway


We conducted a risk assessment for an extension to the runway of an international airport. Features of the assessment were the involvement of key stakeholders in the process, including important funding agencies, and sufficient time for probing discussions. With the help of effective facilitation, this gave the stakeholders confidence that nothing important had been overlooked.

Background and context

Purpose and objectives

The project involved the extension of the main runway of an international airport, relocation of navigation and related equipment, and works to nearby roads, drainage structures and recreation areas. The objective of the project was to facilitate increased international tourism and freight movement and hence contribute to local economic development.

The purpose of the risk assessment was to identify and set priorities for the risks to government associated with the runway extension. The assessment would necessarily have to take account of perceived risks to the local community and other stakeholders.

Specific requirements were that the risk assessment generate:

  • A list of the main risks to the project
  • An assessment of the importance or priority of each risk for management attention
  • A list of management responsibilities for developing action plans to treat the high-priority risks.

The intent was that these outcomes would allow the main participants to identify the practical actions that would be required for them to minimise their exposures to adverse effects of uncertainty while maximising the achievement of the critical success factors for the project.


The risk management process was based on ISO 31000.

Two structured workshops were conducted.

  • Establishing the context. Establishing the context involved reviewing a wide range of documents relating to the project and conducting a preliminary briefing workshop. From the reviews and the preliminary workshop, detailed structures and a timetable for the risk assessment workshop were developed, including spreadsheet templates for recording risks.
  • Risk assessment. A subsequent 2-day workshop was conducted, involving a number of the main stakeholders, to identify risks, analyse their consequences and likelihoods, develop and agree priorities for them, and task specific organisations with developing risk treatment actions for high-priority risks. Stakeholders and criteria

A wide range of stakeholders had been considered as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. Stakeholder groups included multiple levels of government, the local community, the business community, the aviation sector and airport users.

The objectives of each stakeholder group were discussed and reviewed. Taking these into account, as well as the aims of the project, objectives were condensed into eight critical success factors against which the consequences of risks could be measured (Table 1). These were developed later into a set of explicit scales to be used in the risk assessment to describe how severe the consequences of risks could be.

Table 1: Criteria

Critical factor


Airport operations

Operational flexibility for the aviation industry is maximised

Community relations

Good relations with the local community are maintained, in the short-term (during construction) and in the long-term (during operations)

The community accepts the benefits of the new facility


The project is completed within budget


Impacts on the environment are minimised


The project is constructed to high quality standards


The impact on nearby recreational facilities is minimised


The project is constructed safely

The new facility provides safe operational conditions


The project is completed on time

Funding is achieved from central government

Key elements

The key elements in Table 2 were used to structure the risk assessment process. They were linked to the main topics of interest to the stakeholder groups.



Key element




Aircraft noise


Traffic noise



On-airport activities

Including construction safety


Off-airport activities

Including construction safety



Recreational land use

Including access


Road planning

Including lighting, cycle paths


Airport planning


Heritage issues

Including indigenous heritage


Other effects

Including effects on land use and land values




Including redirection of a nearby creek


Air quality


Flora and fauna

Including bird hazards



Airport safety

Excluding construction hazards


Road safety

Excluding construction hazards



Funding matters



Approvals processes



Other matters

Other important matters not considered elsewhere

Risk assessment workshop and outcomes

Risk identification, analysis and evaluation

For each key element, risks were identified in a structured brainstorming workshop. Participants included the project team and representatives from several of the main stakeholders, including stakeholder agencies that would be contributing funding for the project.

Risks were defined as events or circumstances that could arise and affect the critical success factors for the project. 173 risks were identified during the workshop. Five-point scales for consequences (linked to Table 1) and likelihoods had been developed. Ratings for each risk were used to generate priorities using the table in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Table for setting initial priorities

The risk profile for the project is shown in Figure 2. The ratings have implications for the way in which risks are addressed:

  • Major risks are likely to arise and to have potentially serious consequences; they require detailed management planning at a senior level
  • Moderate risks may be likely to arise, or to have serious consequences, but not necessarily both; they should receive some management attention, but this may be delegated
  • Minor risks tend to be infrequent or of low consequence, and are often managed by routine procedures, requiring little additional attention.

Figure 2: Risk profile

The greatest number of major risks were concerned with noise and its perception by the public. They included:

  • Public objections
  • Increased noise perception at the ends of the runway
  • Perceived health risks from noise
  • Noise amelioration measures not being funded adequately, or not working well
  • Poor public information.

The allocation of responsibilities for addressing noise risks was not easy: some risks would be dealt with as part of the EIS, and there were overlapping statutory obligations. Nevertheless, a lead organisation was agreed in each case, with a clear recognition of the need for close liaison and coordination.

Risk treatment

Two sets of risk treatment actions were specified.

For each of the 13 risks rated as Major and the 52 rated as Moderate, a responsible organisation was allocated. The organisation agreed to confirm whether a suitable risk treatment plan was already in place or, if not, to develop one.

The overall coordination and management of the organisations’ responses to the Major and Moderate risks was allocated to a senior government coordinator. She was also responsible for the development and implementation of a Project Risk Management Plan, to include details of the organisational structures and processes for the continuing management and monitoring of risk through the life of the project, as well as details of specific plans for treating individual identified risks.


The risk assessment workshop was held over two days. Many risks were identified, of which the majority were rated as Minor.

The intent was to conduct an assessment that was as comprehensive as possible, not just to identify high-priority risks for immediate attention but also to provide a level of confidence that nothing important had been omitted or overlooked.

There were many powerful stakeholders with an interest in the airport and the project, and many of them were represented in the workshops. Several important benefits arose from this:

  • The stakeholders brought different perspectives to the workshops, leading to detailed and often probing discussions
  • Stakeholders were able to assure themselves that there were no overt biases in the risk assessment or in the approach to the project, and in particular that there were no over-confidence and optimism biases, factors of particular importance to the funding agencies.

The broad set of views and the participation of key stakeholders over an extended period provided additional confidence that no critical issues had been forgotten. Ensuring that so many influential stakeholders worked together productively required careful preparation, especially in the context setting process, and skilful facilitation.

In this case the risk assessment provided a structured overview of the project. The high-priority risks were important, but so too was the opportunity for the main stakeholders to participate, to contribute to the process and to give themselves confidence that the project was progressing well and that unpleasant surprises were unlikely.

Public sector transport agency
Public sector and government business
Services included:
Risk assessment and risk treatment
Project risk management