Dubai Airport's Paul Griffiths talks DXB rebrand and plans for 2019

The CEO breaks down Dubai International’s rebrand, sustainability initiatives, and the plan behind DXB’s upcoming southern runway closure
Griffiths: We don’t have the space to build a huge amount of new aviation infrastructure, to create additional capacity. So we’ve decided to invest in processes and technology, to speed up the passenger journey.
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Griffiths: We don’t have the space to build a huge amount of new aviation infrastructure, to create additional capacity. So we’ve decided to invest in processes and technology, to speed up the passenger journey.

From the heart of Dubai Airport’s executive offices, located to the side of Terminal 1 of Dubai International Airport (DXB), Aviation Business got the opportunity last month to sit down with Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

Head of the world’s busiest airport in terms of international customer numbers for the fifth consecutive year in a row, Griffiths went on to discuss the current transformational drive that is altering DXB’s identity.

While building on the success story of 2018 is certainly in the cards, continued growth is not the only target of 2019, set forth by Dubai Airports.

“We have now decided that not only is growth very much on our agenda for present and future, we are now seeing a maturity in the aviation market, which is putting us in a position where we want to be not just the biggest airport for international traffic but the best,” comments Griffiths.

We made a commitment to transform our customer service standards, through a whole plethora of different initiatives, to make Dubai International the most remarkable customer experience. This is being achieved by working very closely with our airlines and all of our service partners to transform the way an airport operates.”

Coming off an impressive 2018, DXB’s annual traffic surpassed 89.1 million and reportedly achieved an average monthly traffic of 7.4 million. In addition to posting big numbers for the year, DXB broke the 8 million customer mark at two points over 2018 — July saw 8.2 million travel through the airport, while the month of August reported 8.4 million passengers.

The latter was a significant milestone as it ended up the busiest month ever experienced by the airport in its 58-year history.

Other achievements for 2018 included a 28% reduction in wait times, a feat reportedly achieved thanks to DXB’s introduction of smart gates and an advanced operations centre. While flight movements for the year were subdued at 408,251 (-0.3%), the average number of passengers per flight saw gains up to 226 (1.3%) annually.

In terms of cargo, a total of 2,641,383 tonnes of airfreight was processed at DXB, a reduction of 0.5% over figures reported in 2017. During the same period, baggage volumes increased by 3.1% to reach 74.9 million bags processed through the airport’s 175km long baggage system. 

Hoping for an equally strong 2019 performance, Dubai Airport’s CEO shares that a number of key developments are coming into play at DXB that is transforming the passenger experience. Part of this consists of investments in both technology and process improvements that are helping realise a seamless passenger experience, along with maximising capacity within the terminals.

“We don’t have the space to build a huge amount of new aviation infrastructure, to create additional capacity. So we’ve decided to invest in processes and technology, to speed up the passenger journey,” says Griffiths.

That’s a combination of consolidation and elimination — putting processes together that are currently operated in discrete silos, such as check-in, immigration, security, and boarding. All of those at the moment are discrete processes.

“What we want is to eliminate them altogether. Soon, I don’t think you’ll need to check-in using any physical token of booking. Most of it will be done at the time of booking the in office or home. We just need to find a way of dealing with baggage and I think technology is moving towards that area too,” he adds.

While certainly creating a better experience for passengers, getting them into the terminal faster is only one side of the coin of Dubai Airport’s current strategy.

Last month, as part of a VIP-studded event that was attended by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai; and Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Airports, the airport operator unveiled a new brand for DXB.

Aimed at transforming Dubai International into a destination in of itself, the new brand is more than a simple logo update. At the core of the rebrand, DXB will begin to create immersive experiences within the airport’s terminals. Each of these ‘experienc’ will highlight different cultural, hospitality, and entertainment elements that exemplify life in Dubai.

Part of this will include the introduction of feature zones throughout DXB’s concourses, which will group together themed attractions, retail outlets, creative exhibitions focused on art and fashion, as well as globally recognised food & beverage chains.

Examples of the latter include the recent launch of a Hard Rock Café in Concourse B that features not only a bar, restaurant and takeout station, but also the iconic merchandising store where passengers can purchase celebrity memorabilia. Last year saw the launch of the hub’s first Nutella Café, also located in Concourse B of Terminal 3.

“The personality of the airport changes as you move along. For example, you move through an area that is a family zone and features trampolines, cinemas, and various other amusements for kids. Then you go to another area that’s is a reflection of Arab hospitality with iconic art drawn from artists that reside here in Dubai. Another area will have retail space,” explains Griffiths.

To find out what they [passengers] may want, we did extensive research to sub-divide our traveller base into several different characteristics and we analysed the needs of all of those different travelling groups … we are matching that with our product design, service design, and the experience we have in each zone."

While the majority of these developments are front-facing, behind the scenes, the airport infrastructure is also evolving quite significantly. Another key area of focus for Dubai Airports over the past year was on sustainability. Challenged to not only reduce its carbon footprint and overall environmental impact, but the airport operator was also pressed to significantly reduce the overall cost of running Dubai International.

In the case of the latter, the CEO admits that the operation of the airport, which costs an estimated $150m (AED 550 million) annually, is the “biggest consumer of electricity and water in the whole of Dubai”.

To tackle these challenges, Dubai Airports has already put several green initiatives into play, such as the deployment of energy efficient fittings, along with the installation of a 4,989KWp rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array on the rooftop of DXB’s Terminal 2.

The solar energy system is being introduced as part of a joint project in collaboration with Etihad Energy Services Company (Etihad ESCO), who is also tasked in replacing 150,000 conventional lamps at the airport with energy-efficient LED bulbs. Combined with the PV array, the project is expected to reduce energy consumption at DXB by 5%, the equivalent of offsetting CO2 emissions by an estimated 22,000 tonnes per year.

The drive to realise a greener future has also led Dubai Airports to introduce electric vehicles (EV) into its support fleet at the DXB. Launching back in December 2018, the Chevrolet Bolt Electric Vehicle was the culmination of a joint-project conducted in partnership with Chevrolet Middle East and Al Ghandi Auto.

Featuring a range of up to 520km on a single charge, the Bolt EV is currently utilised to transport support teams as they tackle of variety of airside tasks. This includes works related to airfield maintenance, traffic management, as well as taxiway inspections.

The airport operator currently has plans in the pipeline for the potential replacement of the DXB’s fleet of Diesel-powered buses with some form of sustainable alternative.

The CEO went on to briefly touch upon the upcoming southern runway closure at Dubai International that is scheduled to last from 16 April to 30 May 2019. Set to last a total of 45-days, DXB will effectively lose 50% of its runways.

Despite the loss, the actual reduction in passenger flights will only be 32%, thanks in large part to an optimised schedule that will see 96% of capacity utilised on the northern runway. Airlines will also reportedly deploy larger aircraft during the period, which in turn will reduce the number of seats by only 26%.

Over the course of the runway closure, Dubai World Central (DWC) is expected to take up the bulk of traffic heading to the emirate. In fact, the airport is expected to see a 700% increase in passenger flights.

In order to make DWC more attractive, we’ve put a range of different ground transportation operations in place. We’ve discussed an arrangement with Dubai Taxi and we just announced an arrangement with Careem ... we are putting buses on to connect people for free between DXB and DWC because the airports will only be effective if they’ve got good ground transportation options,” explains Griffiths.

“We’re also putting more staff down at DWC to help steward airlines through the period and we’ve worked with the airlines to come up with concessions to eliminate any extra cost differentials … We have opened up more capacity at DWC to handle the extra flights and we are pretty confident that this will go very smoothly.”

When asked about his expectations for DWC following the reopening of DXB’s southern runway, Griffiths holds high hopes that the experience will promote increased demand at the airport once passengers see first-hand “quality of service and efficiency at DWC”.

The airport itself has already caught the eye of several airlines, such as the case of Aeroflot, who now offers a daily service from Dubai to Moscow. In another example, Virgin Atlantic recently introduced a 747 into DWC, which is currently serving routes to Birmingham and Manchester in the UK.

Looking beyond the confines of 2019, Dubai Airport’s CEO shares that the organisation and its airports will play a crucial role in the UAE’s hosting of the upcoming EXPO. Already, Dubai Airports has established exhibition and advertising material for EXPO 2020 at its airports and is expected to continue dolling out engaging community content, closer to launch.

“We are going to be doing a lot of clever digital advertising and partnering with EXPO, to make sure the whole event is a great celebration and give people cause to come and see the EXPO site and to experience everything it has to offer,” explains Dubai Airport’s CEO.

“It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that Dubai is at the forefront of modern hospitality and that hospitality should begin and end at the airport,” concludes Griffiths.

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