Building facilities to cope with demand
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, talks to JONNA SIMON
What has been your greatest challenge for the past year?
Without a doubt the successful opening of Terminal 3 and its associated facilities is the most challenging project yet. It is a major step not only for us at Dubai Airports, but also for Emirates Airline, as the new terminal is dedicated for their exclusive use.
The transition to Terminal 3 will be a major customer service enhancement for people who use our airport, which makes it that much more important for us.
Of course, as the world’s largest airport, Dubai World Central - Al Maktoum International will ultimately be the most challenging project, but it is still in the initial phase of development.
Dubai is apparently expecting 50 million visitors through the airports by 2017 and over 100 million at the Al Maktoum Airport. What is the justification for these figures?
Dubai Airports has maintained an average growth rate of over 15 per cent for the past six years. This is largely due to a booming economy that has been almost completely weaned off oil reserves and is now focused on tourism, trade and commerce. As such, Dubai is a major attraction for businesses as well as tourists.
One of the main reasons behind Dubai establishing itself as the aviation hub of the Middle East and fast emerging as the global hub is largely due to the success of Emirates Airline and Dubai’s open skies policy.
Last year we had more than 34 million passengers and we expect this figure to cross 40 million this year. Our new facilities will help us deliver growth that will reach between 65 and 70 million passengers by the first half of the next decade.
So many countries around the world have airports that are struggling to keep up with demand - here in Dubai, we want to make sure that we are building facilities that keep pace with demand. We have to make sure that we have both the right capacity and the right service standard to support this vision for Dubai.
What lessons did the situation at the opening of Terminal 5 at London Heathrow bring home?
I think the lessons are stark. Firstly, under promise and over deliver. That way you will always exceed customer expectations. Secondly, avoid the “big bang” - airports are extremely complex and the risks of trying to operate on day one at maximum capacity are enormous.
Hotels are masters of the ‘soft opening’ strategy and airports should take their lead from the hospitality industry. Lastly, do not believe your own hype. Setting expectations that are based on bravado rather than realism gives the wrong message and does not invite challenge.
These are the reasons why we decided on a low key, phased opening, which will give us the chance to make sure that we can deliver what we wanted our customers to experience.
When it comes to world ranking, where does Dubai rate in terms of capacity?
According to passenger statistics for January to April 2008, Dubai currently ranks 20th in the world. Year to date growth is 14.4 per cent over the same period in 2007 and the opening of our new facilities will give us the capacity to support strong growth in the years ahead.
How does Dubai World Central - Al Maktoum International compare with other major airports?
The first phase of the project will start operations in the second half of 2009. When at full capacity, the new airport will be almost double the size of the world’s busiest airport, which is currently Atlanta in the USA. The current top five after Atlanta are Chicago, Heathrow, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris.
Is there really going to be a residential complex near the Al Maktoum International airport?
Airports around the world attract a wide variety of activities, which are linked to the business of the airport. Given the fact that the whole site is approximately 148 square kilometres, it makes sense for a wide variety of accommodation complexes, hospitality, leisure and entertainment facilities to be developed for the tens of thousands of people that will live and work there.
Also, with the planned capacity in excess of 120 million passengers having a wide range of facilities available nearby also adds to the attractiveness of the airport as a destination as well as a hub. This is in addition, of course, to the large amount of commercial activity, storage and aviation related enterprises that will be based at the airport.
When the Al Maktoum airport is ready, will it be linked by a good rail network?
A fundamental part of the airport master plan is to attract as much traffic on to a rail network serving not only Dubai but other parts of the UAE. We are in discussion with the RTA as well as other agencies to ensure that fast, convenient rail links are provided between the commercial and residential districts of Dubai.