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Mega airports to take centre stage

United Arab Emirates: Tuesday, June 03 - 2008 @ 09:42

Dubai International Airport currently ranks 27th in the world in terms of passenger traffic, but that ranking is set to change dramatically in the next few years, according to Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

With a growth rate that is 40% higher than the current world average, Dubai is expected to crack the top 10 in passenger traffic within the next five years.

The sheer scale of the projects that are underway in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is staggering.

Dubai International Airport is adding a third terminal and two new concourses at a cost of $4.5bn, enabling the airport to handle up to 70 million passengers annually.

Not to be outdone, Abu Dhabi International Airport is spending $6.8bn on expansions that will allow the airport to handle over 40 million passengers, as well as over 2.5 million tons of cargo per annum in the future.

However, the biggest kid on the block will be the $10bn Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport, which will eventually have two mega terminals, six runways and concourses, and a capacity to process more than 160 million passengers annually.

Speakers said the growth that is taking place in the region’s airport sector can be credited not only to its booming economy, but also to its liberalized policies in terms of development.

‘Over one dozen new runways are currently being built in the Gulf region,’ said Rudy Vercelli, CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company. ‘England has been struggling for the past 20 years to build just one.’

Challenges lie ahead

The sheer size of these new airports is no easy task for designers. ‘One challenge is that you can buy planes a lot faster than you can build terminals,’ Vercelli said.

Planners of Al Maktoum airport hope to make it as customer-centric as possible, which will be a huge challenge as up to 100 million people will be transiting through the airport each year, Griffiths said.

‘Big airports tend to be airports where you have to walk an extremely long way to get to an airplane,’ he noted, so designers have focused on how to minimise the walking distances between airplanes and within the terminals.

Great emphasis has also been placed on minimising delays in the new airport. The most important thing on passengers minds is how to get out of there as fast as possible, Griffiths said, so the airport intends to use ‘ground breaking technology and innovation’ to help speed customers on their way.

One change that will greatly help to minimise time spent in airports will be to eliminate the check in process. ‘In what other industry, once you have paid for the goods you wanted to buy, do you then have to confirm that yes, you do want to use these goods that you paid a lot of money for?’ he asked.

‘So we want to eliminate the check in process and make that as much of that as part of the transaction when you buy your ticket in the first place. We also want to make sure all security customs and immigration are combined into a single, secure, and seamless activity.’

Skill shortage concern

Another challenge will be finding qualified staff to fill all of the new positions that will be required by these airports. ‘The industry is having a struggle to find people. Not many students come out of university with an ‘airport degree’, Vercelli said.

Griffiths believes one way that young staffers will become more qualified is through ‘skills sharing’. This refers to the development that occurs when new staffers learn by working side-by-side seasoned professionals.

Officials from these new airports know how critical it is to ensure that their staff is well trained. No matter how well facilities and runways are designed, the employees of the airport often make the difference in terms of customer satisfaction.

They say the best thing that can happen when a new airport opens is for it to make as little news as possible. ‘You are remembered for your failures, not for your success,’ said Vercelli.

See also:
Review: Emirates First Class
How to minimise jet lag

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Tuesday, June 3- 2008 @ 9:42 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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