Dubai’s global airline ambitions

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on January 13, 2015

An artist's impression of the proposed terminal

The emirate wants to become an international travel hub through a stunning $32-billion new airport

For Indian travellers who regularly fly to Dubai or stop over there for transit flights, the travel experience may change in the next five to seven years. You will get immigration, check-in and baggage handling details on your smart phone.

In case you live in Dubai, you can complete these formalities at one of the stations of the suburban train service; and board a train right into the terminal. The present Dubai International Airport (DIA) may be the favourite among shoppers, but imagine how many shops will find place in an airport where each concourse is the size of seven football fields!

These are some of the features that Dubai wants to introduce as it expands its second airport, Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central. To be built at a cost of $32 billion, the airport is an extension of the city’s global ambitions. And that ambition has become bigger with a turnaround in its economy in 2014, after it was hit by the 2008 global meltdown.

So if one thought that DIA, the city’s first airport, has already touched the peak after ending 2014 with 71 million passengers – making it the busiest airport in the world – the Al Maktoum International will take it to the next level. It will start with handling 120 million passengers a year, which will eventually double to 240 million. But don’t be overawed by the size. A flyer will never have to walk more than 500 metres to get to the boarding gate.

Luxury before take-off

The brain behind the new airport is Paul Griffiths, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Airports. Griffiths spent a considerable part of his working life with Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, whom he credits with revolutionising customer service in the air.

Griffiths is now keen to do the same on the ground.

“It is about time that someone grasped this opportunity that we have got of creating a brand new airport experience and making it passenger-oriented,” Griffiths told BusinessLine over the phone from Dubai.

Apart from his 14-year stint with Virgin, Griffiths was the Managing Director of London’s Gatwick Airport.

The airport at Al Maktoum International currently handles about five million passengers annually. But Dubai needs a bigger airport. Even Emirates Airlines, which is based in Dubai, had voiced concerns that DIA might not have enough space for its plans.

“Physical limitations of our infrastructure are such that that we will struggle to get beyond 90 million passengers (at DIA). We do not have the space to build another runway,to create more aircraft stands or more terminals,” says Griffiths.

An opportunity

Given the size of the new airport, Griffiths’ team is using the opportunity to redefine customer service. “The idea of looking at an airport that starts life with a capacity to handle 120 million passengers, led us to think that if we replicate the existing legacy processes that apply in airports around the world then it will give us a big problem,” he says. The ‘legacy processes’ include baggage-handling and immigration check.

Hence, the new airport, which is being developed in two phases, will follow a new approach to use latest technology and efficient processes that cut the time spent on completing travel formalities and reduce distances that passengers need to cover to board a plane.

“As part of the development process, Dubai Airports will be forming multi-disciplinary work teams to examine options…That process is underway but it is far too early to talk about specific solutions,” the company explained in an email. The new airport’s design will try “to stay as faithful” as possible to maximise passenger experience.

Published on January 13, 2015
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