Bigger and Better

Despite the global recession, Dubai is not a city standing still. And the same is true for its ground handling company.

Aviation is feeling the heat right now. Yields and passenger numbers have fallen dramatically and any mention of economic recovery sparks a surge in oil prices.

The problem is seen as a global one, and while this is true to a large extent, some regions are decidedly more optimistic about the future. The heat in Dubai, for example, is purely down to the weather.

The current international airport handles approximately 5,600 weekly flights operated by nearly 100 airlines to over 200 destinations across all six continents. It is the fifth busiest in world by international traffic, based largely on the ever-increasing network of home carrier, Emirates, and in 2009 will handle over 40 million passengers.

And even though this facility will expand further in the next few years, it still won’t be enough. A new facility —Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International (DWC-AMI) — will open up in June next year. Phase 1 includes a single A380-compatible runway; a passenger terminal with capacity for up to seven million passengers per annum; a cargo terminal building with a 600,000- ton per annum capacity; and a 92- meter air traffic control tower. Cost for this opening phase is estimated at $820 million.

Ultimately, DWC-AMI will have the ability to handle 12 million tons of cargo annually, three times more than the current busiest freight hub, Memphis, while its potential annual passenger throughput of 160 million is far more than Atlanta-Hartsfield currently serves.

Five parallel runways will serve up to four passenger terminals, no fewer than 16 cargo terminals, and hotels, shopping malls and amenities galore.

It sounds more than enough to keep a plethora of ground support companies busy, but in fact both airports will continue to be handled by Dubai’s sole provider, Dnata.

Jon Conway, divisional senior vice president, airport operations for Dnata, says the company constantly talks to its airline customers and benchmarks itself against the best ground handlers in the world. “Our customers are always keen to tell us how we compare with handlers in their other destinations and we want to be up there with the best,” he says. “Dnata is a growing business operating in six international locations with aspirations to expand. We are very aware that our successful international expansion will be reliant upon providing an exceptional service to international airlines at Dubai airport.”

Being up there with the best involves a host of factors. Perhaps none is more important right now than being as cost-effective as possible. Dnata had already begun a program looking closely at its operating costs before the recession began to take effect. The aim is to strike a balance between revenue growth opportunities and reducing costs, including spend on overtime and outsourced labor; the introduction of a new staff allocation system; a rationalization of accommodation and ground equipment (including fuel costs); and a focus on discretionary spend.

Of course, managing costs is never easy — particularly if the number of flights handled in 2009 has already grown by 6 percent, as is the case with Dnata. “We plan well in advance and over the next few years we will absorb most of the growth by using our current resources more effectively,” says Conway.

Those resources include personnel. Conway notes the ability to recruit depends on the skills required. “Lower skilled workers are easier to find and can often be sourced within the UAE from labor providers,” he says. “More skilled roles such as dispatchers and load controllers are sourced from around the world as we prefer them to have previous airline experience.”

New challenges
Experience is hard-earned, however. For example, Dnata is learning to cope with the A380. Emirates will eventually have the largest fleet of this type in the world with over 50 on order. At Dubai, the aircraft requires a larger parking space, at least three jet bridges, and modifications to the ground facilities.

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