In an interview, Economy Middle East speaks to Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, about the future of DXB and the aviation sector in the UAE. During the conversation, Griffiths sheds light on the importance of sustainability and leveraging technology in the aviation sector.
We hear from the CEO of Dubai Airports about the many successes and milestones the company has achieved. According to Griffiths, Dubai Airports will be witnessing further growth as it pours billions of dollars into its mega expansion plans.
Alp Sarper: Dubai International Airport has been the busiest international airport for nine years. What’s the secret behind it?
Paul Griffiths: The first thing, of course, is the great geocentricity of Dubai. One-third of the world’s population lives within four hours of flying time and two-thirds within eight hours. So it gives us access to all four corners of the globe. Of course, that means that because we’ve continually added capacity to the airport and we operate 24/7, we’ve been able to build up this very impressive hub.
We’ve now got 250 different destinations in 104 countries with, approximately 95 airlines. So, that all contributes to the real busyness of Dubai, and the fact that we’ve set up an efficient hub, means that we are the most attractive way of getting from A to C via point B, which is Dubai. So, I think all of those factors combined and of course, the attractiveness of Dubai as a destination have contributed to our position as the world’s number one international hub.
Alp Sarper: I hear that you have some mega expansion plans ranging from $1. 6 billion to $2. 7 billion dollars. Can you tell us more about these plans?
Paul Griffiths: They’re only the start, really. Those are enhancements in capacity and service levels at DXB over the next 8 to 10 years. That’s because, of course, you heard this week, that our home base carriers between them have ordered another 120 aircraft, 30 787s for flydubai and 90 777s for Emirates. They’ve got to be parked somewhere, people have got to get on and off them, and of course, we’ve got to provide extra capacity within the terminals for those additional passengers.
That’s why we’re spending money at DXB. But ultimately, obviously, we will need a new airport at some stage in the future. We’ve probably got about 25 to 30 million additional passenger capacity to be able to add at DXB. But ultimately, we will need a brand new, shiny airport.
Alp Sarper: Connectivity is a big thing at Emirates and Dubai airports. Now you are the leader in the Asia Pacific region and the Middle East. What’s the secret behind that and how important is that to your business model?
Paul Griffiths: It’s incredibly important, but the interesting thing is that before the pandemic, connectivity was 60 percent of our business and 40 percent of the passengers coming into Dubai airports were actually staying in the city.
Now, it’s a much better economic multiplier for the city for people to stay. But, without that connecting traffic, we couldn’t have such a rich network, and we wouldn’t have so many points on that network. It’s incredibly important. Post-pandemic, the actual point-to-point traffic has grown in importance. But, I believe as we continue to expand, you’ll see over the course of the next few years, an increase in the number of cities served, the amount of seat capacity we’ve got to those cities, and obviously then, the number of people that come to and from Dubai to be able to connect. I also have to say that I think the quality of the connection and the slickness of the operation at DXB is a major contributor to the appeal which draws so many million people through our airport every month.
Alp Sarper: Sustainability, one of the biggest questions of the day, of the decade, and sustainable aviation fuel. How are you supplying or how are you facilitating this for the airlines, for your clients, for your stakeholders?
Paul Griffiths: It’s already being blended into our hydrant supply system. Fuel at airports is a commodity, and wherever it originates, it gets blended and then delivered into the hydrant system to all of the airlines at DXB. At the moment, the industry contribution of sustainable aviation fuel to the total fuel uplift is only about 0.1 percent, but there are plans to greatly increase this productivity over the next few years, and I think we have to step that up. That’s a serious amount of investment that really needs to put into the generation of feedstock for sustainable aviation fuel. The price needs to come down, but I think what needs to happen is governments across the world need to mandate this and make sure we have a level playing field.
But ultimately, it will mean that consumer prices for air tickets may have to rise, possibly not by many more percent than the rate of inflation, but it’s the necessity to make flying sustainable for the future generations.
Alp Sarper: Aviation is an ever-changing industry. How do you manage to keep ahead of the curve?
Paul Griffiths: What we’re continually doing is investing in new technology because we focus on the customer. And I think if anyone thinks that you’re in the infrastructure business when you run an airport, you’ve got the wrong idea. We think that customer service and making our customers happy is the most important thing.
What we’re doing is reinventing all of those horrible legacy processes that go back decades that exist in the aviation industry. We’re trying to remove them from the front of house. So, check-in should be very slick. Immigration and security, you shouldn’t really need to feel that they’re obtrusive.
And the technological change that’s coming is incredibly fast and very, disruptive in a good way. The great thing about that, of course, is that not only does it respect our customers’ time, but actually it’s great for business because if we can give them more time to shop in our restaurants and bars and our retail operations, then that’s much better.
Of course, if you have a facility of a certain size and you want to increase capacity, you either have to build another facility at great expense or if you put the technology in and you halve the time it takes for people to go through it, you’ve got the same result. So for a bit of investment in technology you’ve doubled the flow rate, you’ve got double the capacity.
That’s a far more intelligent way of getting more capacity out of the assets we’ve currently got.
Alp Sarper is Economy Middle East’s editor-at-large .
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