Paul Griffiths on Dubai Airports’ bold journey to super-hub status
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Paul Griffiths on Dubai Airports’ bold journey to super-hub status

Paul Griffiths on Dubai Airports’ bold journey to super-hub status

The head of the airport operator tells Gulf Business how the company is re-engineering every single element of capacity pinch point as Dubai eyes super-hub status

Dubai Airport chief Paul Griffiths (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Dubai Airports is forecasting annual passenger traffic at Dubai International (DXB) to reach 86.8 million – the highest since 2019 – on the back of an expected surge in guest numbers in the final quarter of the year.

And the airport operator is not done yet. It is adding more passenger processing capacity and aircraft stands to meet the growing demand at DXB amid plans to relocate to Dubai World Central (DWC), also known as Al Maktoum International Airport, once the airport’s capacity hits 120 million.

Gulf Business caught up with Griffiths at the Dubai Airshow to learn more about Dubai Airport’s plans for the future. Here are excerpts from the discussion.

DXB is forecasting annual passenger traffic to reach 86.8 million in 2023. What does this mean for Dubai Airports? 

Our passenger traffic in H1 2023 means that we are all set to surpass the pre-pandemic milestone well ahead of our initial projections. We are 100 per cent back to pre-pandemic levels and I believe DXB is probably leading the way at a time when other parts of the world are only in the 70 per cent recovery phase.

We are waiting for the Far East and China to rebound in terms of air travel and once that traffic starts to flow again, we will exceed our pre-Covid-19 figures.

The airport commenced the second half of the year, with average monthly traffic reaching 7.6 million, tracking pre-pandemic levels throughout the third quarter. This means that we are back and ahead of the curve and poised to take on the world again for the next phase of expansion.

With COP28 and the festive season underway. What plans does the company have in place to handle the surge in passenger traffic?

Our infrastructure development has always stayed ahead of demand and unlike other airports, we have never allowed capacity shortage to dampen the expansion plans of the entire airport ecosystem.

How Dubai Airports is building towards a super-hub Our strategy ensures that whenever an airline wants to start services to and from Dubai, we have always had the space.

We might not have the ideal timings, but 95 airlines have grown substantially at our airport and we’re now serving 105 countries, connecting 250 unique destinations within those countries.

The network and the power of the network have been incredibly important to us. This has allowed us to maintain our number-one position for the last nine years.

We’ve got more international airlines such as Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic connecting Dubai with North America and the UK, respectively – these international flights have contributed quite a significant part to our recovery.

It’s good to see Air Canada serving Montreal, and what that also means is it gives more capacity on the route, and it gives better value for money for passengers wanting to travel on the route. Furthermore, we’ve always been very pro-competition and we like the idea of multiple airlines coming into Dubai.

We’ve always had an open skies policy and we would like to continue the expansion of Dubai-based carriers on a reciprocal basis by allowing other airlines access to airport capacity as well.

Overall, we’ve got most major airlines flying into DXB and there are a few that we would like to attract and we are always in discussion with them.

Tell us more about the  company’s plans to expand DXB and DWC. 

We’ve got some quite significant plans for DXB in the medium term. These include adding more passenger processing capacity, finding more space for aircraft stands, boosting the runway capacity, and trying to ease surface access.

We are always re-engineering every single element of capacity pinch point that we’ve got and there are two ways of looking at this. We either build more capacity or optimise the process to get more capacity out of what we’ve already got.

I believe over the next few years, we’ll be receiving the last few million passenger elements out of the DXB infrastructure and beyond that, we’ll need a new airport because we probably can’t get much beyond 115 million to 120 million.

Our immediate-term strategy is to expand DXB because that’s where the demand is, and we’ve got some plans afoot to be able to invest in our existing facilities to make them more efficient, more effective, and more customer-friendly.

But in the longer term, once we’ve got to the maximum capacity of DXB, we will have to build and expand quite considerably the capacity at DWC because the problem with DXB is it is a small site.

Though we use the airport incredibly and efficiently, it’s built up on all four sides, so we have no room to expand and develop further – hence relocation is the only way forward.

Tell us what Dubai Airports is doing  to drive sustainability. 

We are working on several technology and sustainability initiatives. With the COP28 climate change summit in Dubai, the biggest carbon footprint at our airports is the consumption of jet fuel and DXB is already blending sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) into the airport hydrant system.

How Dubai Airports is building towards a super-hub The world production of SAF needs to increase because at the moment it’s only 0.1 per cent of the total fuel supply and the incentive to greatly increase production is there.

Furthermore, what we’re doing on the ground is quite considerable. We’re increasing our solar electricity generating capacity to 43 megawatts, which will be a very big contributor towards our net zero carbon emissions.

We’re also leveraging new techniques to store cooled water as a sort of battery, which will give us the ability to be able to cool the airport 24/7 and only run the fans at night, which is much more efficient than keeping the cooling infrastructure going.

The airport is converting vehicles on the ground to sustainable fuels, be it hydrogen or electric. Hence, there are many things that we’re doing now to be able to make the entire airport ecosystem sustainable.

Other initiatives include our ambitious goal to send zero waste to landfills. We’re considering waste-to-energy plants, reprocessing all our cooking oils into biofuel, and ending the use of single-use plastics.

We’re also working towards replacing old technology and light bulbs, for example, with more energy-efficient modern fittings. So, huge amounts of small measures will hopefully add up to a very considerable reduction in our carbon footprint overall.

What initiatives are you  putting in place to advance customer experience?

For decades, airports have operated legacy technology and very cumbersome systems. Airports also require passengers to go through multiple checks check-in, baggage, immigration, security, and then passport and boarding pass checks.

We want to converge those processes and take as many of them out of the airport environment as possible. We want the airport environment to feel like a five-star hotel while ensuring that our customer experience is second to none.

Airports should be all about hospitality that’s what we should be communicating to our guests that we will take care of their needs on an individual basis while taking all the legacy processes out of the mix.

Overall, airports should be about hospitality, not about infrastructure. We should give travellers back their time so they enjoy the airport experience while waiting for their flights.

Read: Dubai eyes super-hub status with new mega airport

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