Bigger and Better

Oct. 19, 2007
Dubai International Airport is undergoing enormous changes as air traffic levels hit record highs. With massive expansion plans including a new mega-airport, how can ground services company, Dnata cope?

Dubai is now a major player on the world stage. Its meteoric rise is evidenced by numerous eye-catching developments — construction projects in tourism, hospitality, leisure and entertainment exceed $365 billion USD — and a dramatic increase in aviation activity.

Compared to figures from the first half of 2006, 2007 traffic has increased 17.94 percent. Cargo movement has also jumped 11 percent, Dubai Cargo Village is now handling a total of 751,575 tons, while aircraft movement registered a total of 127,568 flights, representing a 9.5 percent increase.

HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of Dubai Department of Civil Aviation and chairman and CEO of Emirates Airline and Group described the results as “very satisfying.”

To cope with this dynamic surge in numbers, the aviation sector is undergoing a massive expansion program. A total of $82 billion USD will be invested as part of Dubai Government’s 2015 plan. This includes tripling passenger capacity and doubling cargo throughput at the current gateway, a new mega-airport and a considerable hike in Emirates’ fleet from the current 108 planes to 180.

“With Dubai emerging as the regional trade, business and tourism center, DIA’s role and scope of operations have acquired new significance,” says Sheikh Ahmed. “Dubai currently handles in the vicinity of 30 million to 60 million passengers annually, including 15 million tourists which are expected by 2010.”

Breathtaking scope
The $4.5 billion plan for Dubai International Airport includes the construction of Terminal 3 as well Concourses 2 and 3 — all for the exclusive use of Emirates. Scheduled completion is set for 2009, by which time the airport will be able to handle up to 70 million passengers.

Terminal 3 and Concourse 2 are online to be finished by mid-2008, while Concourse 3 — dedicated to the Airbus A380 super-jumbo — is expected to be operational in 2009.

A 1.4 million tonne mega cargo terminal is also part of the expansion project. This should open by the end of the year and take total capacity at Dubai Cargo Village to 2.8 million tons.

As if that isn’t enough, Dubai is also planning the world’s biggest airport city at Dubai World Central — approximately 40km from the existing facility.
The $33 billion USD project is breathtaking in scope. Along with the airport there will be residential, commercial, golf, aviation and logistics ‘cities’. The airport (JXB) itself will feature two main passenger terminals, the first dedicated to home carrier Emirates and the second for other international carriers. A third building for low-cost carriers will also be built. Overall capacity is in the 120-150 million range. Land has even been put aside for executive jet operations, which alone will handle some 100,000 aircraft movements.

There will be six parallel runways — the first of which will be ready shortly. This will enable cargo operations to begin there in relative tranquillity in 2008. Ultimately, JXB will have the capability to process 12 million tons annually.

The new airport will connect to DIA via an express light rail system and dedicated road network. “A customs-bonded road and rail corridor between the two airports will enable fast cargo and passenger movement,” notes Sheikh Ahmed.

The developments should take care of Dubai’s requirements until at least 2050, although growth rates are hardly following convention.

Coping with success
Such grandiose plans will keep the current sole provider of passenger and cargo services at DIA extremely busy. Dnata Airport Operations is wholly-owned by the Government of Dubai and is actively reviewing just about every aspect of its operation to cope with the phenomenal growth.

A spokesperson for the company reveals it has recently restructured into two separate business units, one to handle Emirates, the second to handle all other airlines. The mix of flights is roughly 50/50 at present but Emirates is growing at approximately 20 per cent per annum while other airline activity is up around 6 per cent.

An appraisal of staff and equipment resources is a necessary part of the review program. The number of employees is rapidly expanding via an ongoing recruitment campaign and the 1,200-plus units of motorized ground support equipment will surely increase despite the fact Dnata is in the process of re-engineering its handling processes. It has begun a program for an ‘integrated ramp operation’, which is being undertaken by the recently formed operations efficiency unit. In any case, Dnata has long-term procurement agreements with major manufacturers to ensure the timely delivery of ground support equipment.

Air freight — handled by Dnata Cargo — is also witnessing strong growth. Both Emirates Sky Cargo and Dnata Cargo have built new warehouses recently.

Of course, safety is the backbone of a quality service and in this respect the company has set up a safety compliance and training department to back-up its ISO 9001 compliance. This should allow Dnata to maintain and exceed standards in its service level agreements, which are an integral part of all its ground handling contracts. The company spokesperson notes there is also a key account management program whereby each airline is assigned a manager to ensure its requirements are met.

“Additionally Dnata has invested in a computerized customer relationship management system to collate all related information to assist in the management of its 118 airline customer base,” he adds.

The company will certainly need to become as efficient and customer-friendly as possible — the spokesperson reveals the Government of Dubai is looking to open up JXB to competition and has stated there will be new ground handlers at the mega-airport.

Big planes for a big airport
It’s not just big airports Dnata has to worry about – it’s the big aircraft too. Emirates is the principal customer for the mammoth Airbus A380, the 500-plus seat plane set to become a common sight at DIA and JXB.

Live handling trials took place in August at DIA and new A380-specific ground support equipment — push back tractors and upper deck catering trucks — were used successfully.

In fact, the trials took seven days and involved some 100 tests and more than 2,000 people. This was one of the longest customer reviews for Airbus, taking in taxiway, runway and ground support equipment compatibility tests, as well as docking trials at the terminal gate and in the state-of-the-art Emirates Engineering Center.

Four test flights involved all the key players including Dnata Airport Operations. In order to replicate typical airline conditions two of the test flights were operated in the busy morning period while two flights were staged later in the afternoon. Using a near 80 percent load factor — the average tunraround time experienced by Emirates was no more than 90 minutes.

Meanwhile the hot weather operability tests culminated with the smooth docking of the A380 at Hangar C in the Emirates Engineering Center. The dock built by UAE-based Excel Industries allows full access to the aircraft. The working environment can be up to 24 metres above ground level but even so, heavy maintenance can be conducted safely.

Emirates is expected to take delivery of its first A380 in August 2008 with another 54 to follow. They will help maintain the carrier’s expansion plans, which includes new routes to Houston, Sao Paulo, Toronto and a host of Indian destinations.

Keeping pace with such developments won’t be easy for Dnata. Challenges galore will be provided by the expansion at the existing airport, a massive green field site complete with competition and an airline as big as the aircraft on order. But the company has handled the dizzying growth to date and there is every reason to believe it will continue to do so in the years ahead.