It maybe just three years old but Qatar’s new gateway to the world, Hamad International Airport (HIA), has already made a big impression for its design, state-of-the-art facilities, IT innovation and reputation for delivering top quality customer service.
Doha’s new airport has scooped a number of design awards – it’s wave inspired roof has particularly impressed the construction industry – and become one of the go to places for trialling pioneering new technology and potential new passenger processes.
While its impressive facilities and services, which include one of the largest collection of artworks at an airport, have wowed passengers to such an extent that it is one of only six gateways on the planet to earn a ‘5-Star Airport’ rating from Skytrax.
In this exclusive Q&A style article, the airport’s chief operating officer, Badr Mohammed Al-Meer, discusses all you need to know about Hamad International Airport’s customer service philosophy as well as a host of other topics ranging from IT innovation, traffic growth and its
art and entertainment programmes to being environmentally friendly.
how would you describe 2016 for the airport in terms of traffic growth?
It was an exceptional year for our airport, breaking the records for passenger, aircraft and cargo traffic. A new high of 37.3 million passengers passed through our facilities in 2016, which represented growth of 20.5% on the previous year.
Our performance was equally strong in the number of aircraft movements and cargo, which increased by 15.8% and 20.8% respectively last year, making Hamad International Airport one of the world’s key cargo hubs.
Based on the latest numbers from the region, we are the fastest growing airline hub in the Middle East and we expect 2017 to be another great year for HIA, surpassing the 40 million-passenger mark.
What are the key reasons behind the upturn in traffic?
We were happy to see all our airlines grow during 2016. Qatar Airways has naturally been the main driver of our traffic growth by adding new destinations and increasing its frequencies to many of its existing routes.
In parallel, we saw British Airways launch a point-to-point service from Heathrow, Emirates introduce the A380, and five new airlines commence services to our airport. Despite the world and regional economic volatility, Qatar continues its solid growth, which is reflected in the origin and destination traffic from HIA, which increased by 10% in 2016.
Qatar Airways currently accounts for around 85% of the total traffic. Emirates, flydubai, Jet Airways and Etihad complete the top five airlines operating out of HIA.
During 2016, our key strategic priorities were to increase HIA’s capacity, improve the product offering and, most importantly, redesign the operational processes to more efficiently accommodate rising traffic demand.
Concourses D and E became fully utilised in 2016, increasing the total number of flights departing from contact gates. This added 130,000 square metres of additional functional space to the terminal, enriched our retail offering with new shops and services, and provided passengers with more waiting areas.
From an operational perspective, 15 new aircraft parking stands were constructed to support the hub operation of Qatar Airways and we introduced the international best practice of airport stakeholder-driven Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) to optimise the operational management of the airport.
Our capacity expansion programme launched this year will enable us to efficiently serve our increasing passenger numbers and handle growing cargo and aircraft movements with our renowned high-quality standards. The programme will ensure that HIA continues to be one of the leading aviation hubs of the world in the coming years.
How important do you take customer service?
Customer service is the basic component of our DNA, and developing and implementing a holistic passenger experience strategy was a key priority even before the airport became operational.
We initially invested heavily in understanding more about our passengers and their expectations for the brand new airport in terms of its facilities, services and communication with them. What we learnt was incorporated in to our passenger experience and commercial strategy to allow us to better deliver and measure the products that would satisfy the very diverse needs of our passengers.
Given that exceptional customer service can be only delivered by exceptional staff that work as a team, we invest in our human capital with extensive training programmes and workshops that focus on understanding who HIA’s customers are and what they expect, communicating the survey results, and highlighting the importance of service standards.
We are happy to see that our efforts are being rewarded by high scores in our passenger satisfaction surveys, along with international acknowledgement by others, such as Skytrax, which ranks us as one of only six 5-star Airports in the world. Our employees are also consistently voted as the best airport staff in the Middle East.
Can you please tell US a little more about your arts and entertainment strategy?
HIA prides itself on being an innovative exhibition space. Art is an integral part of HIA, having been designed to house permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Passengers are exposed to a diverse set of artistic media including paintings, sculpture, electronic and interactive installations. Our airport terminal is a public space that welcomes millions of people every year and is therefore an ideal space to interact with art. Our iconic Lamp Bear by renowned Swiss artist Urs Fischer is located at the heart of the airport and is our landmark for art.
Elsewhere our passenger terminal showcases a fascinating selection of art, curated in partnership with Qatar Museums. Its desire to extend art beyond the traditional museum model and into public spaces combines perfectly with our vision for culture to be a central and enriching part of our environment.
The artworks you can see at Hamad International Airport are a mix of acquired pieces and others created especially for our unique spaces. The latter include works by local artists like Qatari artist Faraj Duham, who was commissioned to create large-scale murals, whilst artist Ali Hassan produced a desert horse sculpture.
Was it always the plan that HIA would be a pioneer in the use of new technology?
HIA was designed with technology as one of its key contributing factors in delivering operational excellence. A digital transformation programme is also currently underway to ensure that we continue setting benchmarks in customer experience, while improving our efficiency, safety and security.
We have embraced ACI/IATA’s ‘Smart Security’ concept by volunteering to be a pilot airport for new technologies. Having one of the most advanced airport IT platforms, during the first trials that took place last year, we were able to significantly improve efficiency and reduce waiting times throughout the passenger journey by enabling self-service processes.
The success of the smart airport pilot programme has validated our plans to promptly introduce the next generation common-use self-service check-in and self-service bag drop services.
In parallel, we have also invested heavily in providing passengers with easy-to-access, complimentary unlimited high speed Wi-Fi. Furthermore, the iBeacon enabled mobile app launched in 2016 offers dynamic wayfinding and live airport information, and will ultimately offer engaging interaction with our passengers.
Focusing on airport efficiency, our state-of-the-art Operations Control Centre, equipped with the most advanced technology, has ensured safe and reliable operations. It has also resulted in making HIA one of the best on-time performance airports in the world.
What are you plans to grow the freight side of the business?
The establishment of HIA as one of the fastest growing cargo hubs in the world has resulted in the commissioning of a second cargo terminal designed with all the necessary specifications to handle the fast growing demand for pharmaceuticals, as well as to reduce the connecting time of transit cargo. The terminal will be built in two phases with the first one being operational by 2020.
Is your airport environmentally friendly?
Sustainable growth is a fundamental part of our strategy. Although we operate in a very challenging climate, we are fortunate to have environmentally friendly infrastructure, while our sustainability strategy aims at continuously improving our environmental impact.
We recently successfully renewed our status in ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme and have just announced a long-term commitment to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions.
Our target is to improve carbon efficiency per passenger by 30% by 2030 against a 2015 baseline. It is worth noting that we achieved a 4% improvement in carbon emissions per passenger in 2015, compared to 2014. The ambition is to reduce the 2015 baseline of 5.6 kilos of CO2 per passenger to fewer than 4.0 kilos CO2 per passenger by 2030.
To help us achieve this we have also created an Energy Working Group comprising a team of electrical, engineering and environmental technical specialists with the remit to identify and progress energy saving initiatives across the whole airport compound.
The group has already begun to implement a number of new projects, including modifications to lighting, heating, ventilation and cooling systems which, when combined, could save up to 4,462,600kWh energy per year.
How big an opportunity and a challenge does Qatar’s Gulf location present in terms of the airport’s growth?
We are fortunate to have such an ideal geographical location that allows us to have non-stop services to almost every large airport in the world. The latest Qatar Airways service between Doha and Auckland, the longest route in the world, is a perfect example. At the same time, it is a great challenge to have strong competitors around us. We take both factors under consideration when formulating our future development strategies.
We remain very confident about the future as we believe that our competitive advantage stems from our internal strengths. We will therefore remain focused on providing airlines with adequate capacity, safeguarding operational excellence and constantly improving our facilities and services to offer an outstanding travelling experience to our passengers. This is how we will ensure that Hamad International Airport remains one of the best airports in the world.