Bigger and Better

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

“From a Dnata perspective, we required new pushback vehicles to cope with the greater weight, double the number of ground power, air conditioning and air starter units, as well as a modification to our loading vehicles as the A380 has larger cargo doors,” Conway informs. “New high lifters for disabled passengers and flight catering trucks were also required to reach the upper deck.”

After handling the A380 for over a year, Dnata is reviewing its processes and has recently conducted best practice visits to Hong Kong and London. “The A380 is still a new aircraft and therefore the learning curve is still quite steep,” accepts Conway.

Aside from the A380, Dnata is coming to terms with the rise of self-service — technologies that did not originally gain widespread acceptance in the Middle East, but are now prevalent.

Conway admits self-service was originally seen purely as a way of cutting costs and speeding up the check-in process. Dnata is now looking to expand on the core amenities such as online check-in and kiosks by talking to the airlines about adding bag drop desks, VISA checking facilities and scanners which can read online boarding passes. This creates new paradigms for the company. “If someone checks in at home with hand baggage only, we may not know whether they have actually arrived for the flight until they board the aircraft,” explains Conway. “This can create more work at the boarding point but it’s something we are getting used to.”

New airport
Dnata will also have to get used to the massive new facility, Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International. Dubai World Central refers to the city being built around the airport, which is situated at Jebel Ali, some 40km from the existing Dubai International Airport. Dubai World Central is a 140km2 site — twice the size of Hong Kong Island — and comprises six zones, including residential city, commercial city and aviation city.

Dnata is hoping more efficient use of its facilities, manpower and equipment at Dubai International Airport will enable it to cope with the initial opening of DWC-AMI. Once the operating plan post-2010 becomes clearer, Dnata will start to put longer term plans in place.

Andrew Walsh, vice president for DWC, Dubai Airports, says the design and development of the airport facilities has been undertaken by a sister company, Engineering Projects, in conjunction with their consultants.

Dubai Airports has been engaged with Dnata in determining some of the operational details of handling and fine tuning the design. “The cargo terminal, for example, has been developed to enable the build and break of sea containers for easier processing of sea to air traffic, as well as the capability to quickly move through units for import and export,” says Walsh. “Perhaps the design improvements that are not immediately noticeable are providing staff canteen facilities airside and landside, enabling ground staff to remain in their work zones and reducing the load through security.”

Feeling the heat
Airport development and the plans in place to facilitate improvements in ground support certainly suggest Dubai isn’t getting as hot under the collar as other regions as the recession bites. But actually, with summer temperatures exceeding 50 C, it is still feeling the heat.

Naturally enough, employees, facilities and equipment at Dubai airport are affected. The buildings need robust air conditioning systems and the tarmac literally melts and needs on-going repairs. Of course, large air conditioning systems and a thorough maintenance plan for external facilities and equipment ease the conditions somewhat. “We occasionally supply extra air conditioning units while aircraft are on the ground,” says Conway. “Of paramount concern is care of our staff who provide cover 24 hours a day handling baggage and cargo. This year we have supplied tens of thousands of bottles of water, water coolers in rest areas, additional air conditioning, fans and shade wherever possible. Also ensuring they take sufficient breaks in the in air conditioned rest areas we provide is a priority.”

Dnata continually reviews these provisions and are already starting to build in further improvements for next summer, including a review of their uniform which will take place at the end of this year.

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