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Joe Bates reports on the continued growth and development of Dubai’s airport system, which includes plans to make Al Maktoum International–Dubai World Central (DWC) one of the most high-tech gateways on the planet.

The region’s newest gateway, Al Maktoum International–Dubai World Central (DWC) continues to grow and evolve, in late October welcoming the launch of services by flydubai.

The airline will operate services to a number of destinations from DWC, but will continue to call Dubai International Airport (DXB) its main home for now.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, calls the launch of flydubai services from DWC “a strong endorsement of the growth strategy planned for the two-airport city and a major milestone in the brief, but promising history of the airport.”

He adds: “We are very pleased with this development as it will benefit both the airline and the airport while offering more choice and convenience to our customers, particularly the residents living in the south of Dubai and upcoming communities around DWC.”

Since launching its operations in 2009, flydubai has created a network of more than 95 destinations in 45 countries, with 17 new routes announced in 2015.

Existing DWC facilities

First opened for cargo in 2010 and passengers in 2013, the existing passenger terminal at DWC is serviced by one A380 capable runway, 64 remote aircraft stands and has capacity for up to seven million passengers per year. 

Dubai Airports is quick to note that DWC offers full retail as well as F&B facilities and services, so passengers handled at Dubai’s second gateway aren’t missing out by not being welcomed at DXB.

The addition of flydubai services means that DWC is currently served by five passenger airlines and 30 cargo airlines that between them serve more than 40 destinations.

DWC’s passenger terminal is due to undergo a major expansion that will see its capacity increase to 26 million to accommodate future passenger growth.

The expanded facility is expected to openin 2018 and is a precursor to the $32 billion expansion to create the world’s biggest airport with an annual capacity exceeding 200 million passengers.

The future

However, in spite of the huge planned future capacity for DWC, Griffiths insists that it won’t be one giant hub with an ultimate capacity of an astonishing 240 million passengers per annum but 12 medium size airports or hubs each capable of accommodating 20mppa.

He claims that this is the case as each of the 12-nodes being developed on the vast 140-square kilometre airport site will act as identical, self-contained, independent facilities effectively creating 12 different airports.

Speaking at the Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels earlier this year, Griffiths said the 12-airports-in-one concept would make DWC one of the most “customer centric” airports on the planet where nobody would have to walk more than 400-metres to their connecting flight.

“In my view the industry is heading in the wrong direction by building ever bigger airports because bigger is not necessarily better,” he noted.

“It inevitably means longer walking distances, less intimate experiences and greater difficulties in customers making connections. And let’s face it, there’s hardly any statistic that’s more important at a connecting hub than the ability for passengers to conveniently and easily connect between flights.

“We will be creating something that is manageable, navigable and easy to use at Dubai World Central and it is all being enabled by technology.”

With a huge eight kilometre distance between the nearest and farthest hubs, Griffiths says the onus will be on Dubai Airports and the airlines to ensure that inbound passengers enjoy swift and hassle free journeys through DWC by assessing operations on a daily basis and directing flights to the best connecting nodes for the bulk of its passengers.

Theoretically this would mean connecting as many passengers as possible through the same node. 

Griffiths promises that under the new model being developed at DWC, long queues should be a thing of the past in Dubai.

“They say that there are only two places in the world that you have to queue, one is at the airport and the other is at the Post Office. My personal ambition is to able to go and hand the monopoly on queuing to the Post Office,” he jokes.


Customer service and IT innovation

Griffiths believes that airports have to learn to treat every customer as an individual and every individual differently as nobody is the same and all travellers have different needs, and he says that IT will prove key in helping airports achieve greater personalisation.

“We live in an increasingly connected world where almost everyone has a smartphone. Whether passengers are departing, arriving or in transit, we’ve got to find a way of using the fact that people are used to having technology in the palm of their hand,” he comments.

“In the future airports will not be developed around infrastructure containing all the intelligence and technology needed to serve the customer as that is far too expensive and it’s not the way the world is progressing.

“Let me put this in perspective. The Apollo computer weighed 70lbs and cost $1 million in today’s prices. It had a 4K memory and had a seven segment digital display. What’s actually in our pockets today has 32 million times more memory, is 1,300 times faster, is 0.4% of the weight and is 0.04% of the cost.

“So if we are handing that amount of technology out to people on a global scale, what on earth can we do to leverage that power to make their travel experience better?”

Quick and easy travel

Griffiths insists that the move to further embrace new technology should be driven by the fact that it’s what passengers want – a quick and easy journey instead of having to queue at check-in desks and in security lines.

He says: “Passengers want airports and air travel to be far more customer centric with fewer obstacles and no more forms to fill in on arriving at or departing a country, and this is possible with new technology. If you can double the process flow through an airport you can double its capacity, and that is far, far cheaper than doubling the size of the terminal building.”

Dubai success story

He freely admits that Dubai’s new philosophy has, in part, been driven by the incredible success of the Emirate.

“Most airport bosses up till now have been infrastructure managers – they built stuff. They’ve spent vast amounts of money building newer and bigger facilities to cope with growth and Dubai has been no exception,” he says. 

“We have spent around $7.8 billion in the last five years creating major facilities to cope with the extraordinary growth that has been happening, but this cannot continue on the current site at Dubai International as we are fast running out of land.”

Beacons and the Internet of Things

Dubai Airports’ willingness to be at the forefront of pioneering new technology should mean that it comes as no surprise to learn that DXB is trialling beacon technology or that Griffiths is a fan of the Internet of Things (IoT).

According to SITA’s 2015 Airline IT Trends Survey, the vast majority of airlines (86%) expect that the IoT will deliver clear benefits in the next three years and already more than one third (37%) have allocated a budget to it.

SITA explains the Internet of Things as being when physical objects are connected to the internet, enabling tracking, data collection, analysis and control. As part of this revolution, it says, more things in the airport are being connected up including buildings, equipment, bags, trolleys and tugs – basically all the ‘things’
that could emit a status.

One of the first manifestations of the IoT in the air transport industry is the use of beacons and this is where airports have a key role to play with some pioneers, such as Miami, already installing thousands of beacons across their site.

Griffiths says: “The ability to track and trace and optimise operations has huge benefits for the industry. It will make airports, airlines and passengers happy.”

He also notes that the IoT will improve an airport’s on time performance, transform airport design and increase the capacity of existing facilities.

Bright future 

To those that say Dubai’s phenomenal growth rate of recent years cannot continue indefinitely – DXB is now the world’s busiest international airport and is projected to handle close to 79 million passengers this year – Griffiths invites you to think again.

His confidence about the future being almost entirely based on the fact that Dubai is superbly placed to serve the growing and increasingly more affluent populations of China, India and other emerging Asian nations.

“If you just look at Asia’s emerging economies, over the next 15 years you are going to see an extra 1.8 billion people a year travelling from this region alone. It gives me enormous satisfaction to know that Dubai is right in the centre of this growth area,” enthuses Griffiths.

It sounds like we’ve only scratched the surface then in terms of Dubai’s potential. I expect that this thought alone is enough to give a few European and North American airport bosses sleepless nights.

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