Abu Dhabi Airport’s capital plan

With a second runaway, a mid-field airport, a free zone and 36 new aircraft for home airline Etihad, Abu Dhabi Airport is emerging as a major player in the region’s battle of the skies. TTN talks to Mohamed Mounib
An impression of the planned Abu Dhabi Airport Hotel

ABU Dhabi Airport is fast emerging on the international air traffic radar as a high-quality hub, evidence of which is in an estimated passenger growth of 19 per cent this year, to a total of 6.7 million passengers.

Mohamed Mounib, managing director of Abu Dhabi Duty Free and In-flight Catering tells TTN what we can expect from the airport this year.

What passenger growth do you expect to see in 2006?

There were 5.2 million passengers in 2004, 5.4 million in 2005 and this year we are expecting this figure to increase to 6.7 million passengers. This considerable growth over last years total is expected as a result of Etihad Airways, the national carrier, acquiring new aircraft and increasing its destination network. Etihad Airways increased its destinations last year to include Frankfurt, Geneva, Munich, Toronto, Brussels and Johannesburg. This year planned new routes include Manchester, New York, Paris, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and in the near future Jakarta.

Which new airlines have started operating from Abu Dhabi airport?
Turkish Airlines started operating from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Istanbul, direct, three times a week, in January this year. In late March Singapore Airlines also started direct flights three times a week and later this month China Airlines will start a Taipei-Abu Dhabi-Vienna service three times a week.

Can we expect to see more airlines flying into Abu Dhabi in the coming year? And which ones?
Later we believe two more airlines will join us from the Far East and one from Europe.

So obviously Abu Dhabi is being positioned as a major hub?
The fact that Etihad uses Abu Dhabi as its base, and the fact that they are acquiring 36 wide-bodied aircraft in the next two years, will certainly create a hub for their operations and for Abu Dhabi. This is similar to operations in Amsterdam and Singapore and their strategy to work with other airlines. This has been evident in attracting China Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines in the first three months of the year to Abu Dhabi International Airport.

With Dubai, Doha and Bahrain all designating themselves as hubs, is there place for so many hubs in the region? Are we headed for a war of the hubs?
There are essential elements in creating a hub, which include a committed airline and the destination itself. As Abu Dhabi is a tourist and business destination and have Etihad Airways introducing new destinations all the time we have no doubt that we have every element available to be a successful hub that will be of an extremely high standard.

Airports in the region have some way to go compared to European airports like Schipol in terms of air-traffic and passenger facilities, as well as cargo movement. Is that an essential benchmark the airport is working towards to or is there a specific strategy for Abu Dhabi airport and what is it?
A master plan was issued a year ago showing the future of Abu Dhabi International Airport. This included a second runway capable of handling A380 aircraft, when they arrive later next year. Also, plans for a new mid-field airport and other services have been made and this master plan is our benchmark. We are taking steps to create all this infrastructure. Meanwhile, Terminal 2 opened last year, capable of handling two million passengers and an Etihad terminal will open mid next year which will be able to handle 3.5 million passengers. These steps will ensure a smooth transit period until the entirely new airport is built.

How far does Abu Dhabi Airport keep a close watch on the expansion plans in Dubai? How much are plans influenced by that or do you follow your own specific strategy?
From a marketing point of view we keep up to date on all the progress taking place in the Middle East and the Gulf. Obviously expansion plans in Dubai and Doha are watched carefully and we take note of how it influences our operations. As for strategy there are plans for a free zone within the airport and this is indicated in our master plan.

Duty Free
What does your expansion have in store for Abu Dhabi Duty Free?

We have just appointed a Swiss company that will be involved with re-designing of shop expansions in Terminal 1 and also for the design of Terminal 3 – this includes Duty Free stores and food and beverage outlets.

What new products can shoppers expect?
We are constantly adding new products to various ranges in Duty Free, especially now that passenger profiles are changing. We are carrying out promotion-specific activity to boost average spend per head, relative to passenger profile. The subcontinent is still a very important part of our business but we are seeing a more varied profile of passengers as a result of Etihad’s network expansion. Previously less than one per cent of our perfume sales were to German nationals, this has now increased to seven per cent, thanks to Etihad starting flights to Frankfort, Geneva and Munich and we aim to follow trends accordingly.
Business movement to Terminal 2 has created additional space in Terminal 1 to introduce new brands and reallocate space for top selling brands in terms of region / channel sectors. A number of new brands were introduced including Hot Diamonds, Bijoux Terner and Message Connection. We have also extended our wine range.
We will be further introducing new shops, products and ranges and updating our raffle programme to suit customer profiles in each terminal.

Could you share some detail on your raffle programmes?
The ADDF is also well-known for its exciting promotions, competitions and raffles and is continuously updating its offerings. Over the last year we have seen a big change in our revamped raffle programme, calling it The Big Ticket and offering ten prizes and not just one. The Big Ticket Draw entry is Dh500 which entitles participants to enter the draws for the first prize of one million dirhams, second prize of a Mercedes Benz C200K, third prize Dh100,000, fourth Dh70,000 and so on. The tenth prize is Dh20,000.
Since then, we have organised numerous raffles as well that target every traveller or citizen; a Dh100 Mercedes C200k ticket raffle, a Nissan Patrol raffle, a Murano raffle, Dh50 Volkswagen Beetle raffle and now a Dh50 Harley-Davidson Motorcycle raffle.

What has performance been at the Abu Dhabi Arrivals Duty Free?
A new arrival shop, covering 100 square meters, was opened in Terminal 1 in the luggage conveyer area last year. This shop, which stocks a variety of merchandise, gives passengers the chance to shop while waiting for their luggage to arrive on the conveyer. Arriving passengers are able to take advantage of the handsome allowance of duty free purchases including beverages, tobacco, confectionery, fragrances and more. The performance of this shop is growing rapidly and the range of products offered here has been increased with its popularity.

Do events like live professional make-up and perfume signing help boost sales?
New launches and interactive promotions were a major contributing factor to the beauty and fragrance sales increase of 19 per cent year on year, which is more than treble the overall business percentage increase. We hosted beauty and fragrance events in Terminal 1 including a Clinique ‘Colour Therapy’ event last year which saw two professional makeup artists from the United Kingdom treating passengers to makeovers. This event led to an increase in business of 52 per cent.
Also, a YSL makeover event and a personal signing session by Martine Micallef, a famous artist and perfume brand owner, on her products, saw an increase in sales. This year, another highly successful ‘Beauty Break Time Out’ was held by Clinique and Frankie Dettori, world famous jockey, launched his new range Dettori in Terminal 1 which created a lot of interest, and sales.
We have had only positive feedback from customers who enjoy being pampered while travelling. It is always satisfying to make customers happy and to build brand loyalty for our suppliers at the same time.

How has the reaction from the airlines been with the announcement of a new Airport Hotel? What sort of check-ins will it accept? How will it be different from other airport hotels?
Airlines have welcomed and appreciated the plan for the Dh100-million new airport hotel which will have 300 bedrooms and will offer many facilities to guests. It will open in 2007. Both full day and half day check-ins will be available. It will cater for travellers and be available to the leisure and business sectors of the UAE.
This hotel will be unique in that it will be built within leisure facilities and grounds close to the airport, adjacent to the Al Ghazal Golf Club. There are also plans to have a walk way between the hotel and airport. Guests will be able to use the walkways when weather allows or scheduled transport. There are plans fro a nine-hole golf course as well and Al Ghazal Golf Club will be considered part of the facilities of the hotel.

How many meals were served last year? What percentage increase is expected for 2006?
Last year we produced approximately 4.5 million meals, an average of about 12,500 per day. As for 2006 we expect a significant increase but this will depend on the rate at which Etihad Airways grows.

What are the major challenges faced by the catering department?
These include undertaking the operation in a unit that is undergoing a large expansion and renovation project that will allow us to have sufficient production capacity for future years. For example, we have seen the number of loading bays more than doubling within the unit and the vast majority of chillers are being replaced or renewed, which results in careful planning with regards to refrigeration and storage. All construction work causes inevitable operational challenges as well.
Producing thousands of meals a day in a safe manner requires a large input of staff resource as we are required to achieve 100 per cent traceability with for example the temperature of all meal types needing to be checked at various stages in production.
Our main customer, Etihad Airways, strives to provide a large choice of (normally four) high quality meals for its passengers, this means the range of food we need to produce is very large and this does not include all of the ‘special meals’ we have to produce e.g. gluten free, shellfish free etc.

Passengers tend to be very critical about food on board and usually blame the caterers. Does this tendency impose more pressure on the caterers?
Pressure is high as each of the thousands of meals produced need to be done so to specifications in terms of meal components/ingredients, appearance, taste and weights of each meal component. Any diversion from the specification is likely to result in a complications. This is why we have a team of quality controllers on duty 24 hours each day ensuring that product specifications are adhered to. Meals are becoming more varied and we are receiving more compliments on the quality of the airlines meals.

With airlines launching on-board chefs, has this become a problem for the catering department and as it influenced a demand for innovative meal ideas and the quality of meals served on board?
As I said, many customers now want a large range of meal options available to suit every taste and concepts like food service on demand rather than at set times during the flight are becoming popular although this is more of a challenge for the cabin crew than the caterer. Also on prestige long-haul routes such as the upcoming Etihad direct to New York flight airlines request that something special and different is produced – possibilities for this include a 9 course meal service. Our chefs also need to be able to produce a large number of different styles of food as most flights like to have a ‘destination’ choice on the menu and the destination could be anywhere – so the potential range of dishes is huge. These challenges will bring a complete change in the choice of meals on certain airlines and we are looking forward to the response.

With the launch of A380’s now – how much of a challenge will it be serving more than 800 passengers on one flight?
The A380s will in some ways just mean more of the same in terms of the types of meals, however it will be a challenge simultaneously preparing so many meals together. Delivering them to the aircraft on time especially if we have a lot of other flights departing at the same time will also be a challenge. We are having to purchase completely new delivery high loaders to serve the A380 because of the unusual location of some of its doors above the aircraft wing. Also the potential for different configurations of this aircraft could mean a lot more first a business class meals being produced which will be more complex.