Dubai Airports CEO wants fresh technology approach


By ASC Guest Columnist

The following column was written by Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

As a guest speaker at last month’s SITA Air Transport Summit in Brussels, I was invited to participate in a discussion on ‘new decade, new efficiencies’, alongside senior officials from the likes of Delta Air Lines, Turkish Airlines and Malaysia Airports. Now in its 10th year, the annual event is a platform for aviation executives to consider the strategic direction of the industry, discuss the latest issues and the role of IT and communications in addressing challenges and opportunities.

During my presentation, I called on airlines, airports, retailers and information technology providers around the world to break down the silo walls and collaborate on technology solutions that improve the passenger experience.

At present, the travel experience at airports is characterised by time-consuming and cumbersome processes. The lack of coordination has created queues for passengers and ultimately, this poor coordination has resulted from a fundamental lack of trust within the industry. It’s therefore about time that we united to change the mindset and the industry model.

With forecasts that passenger journeys will double to 6 billion by 2027 – which will be led by Asia and the Middle East due to their geographical advantage and scope to develop airport capacity – we need a different approach to allow the successful handling of this growth.

For example, passenger numbers in Dubai will grow from over 40 million today to 150 million by 2030. To accommodate that staggering increase, we are building what will eventually become the biggest airport in the world – Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central – featuring five runways and capacity for 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of freight.

The first phase of operations has already commenced with the successful launch of cargo flights last month. However, I believe that today’s processes and technology solutions are desperately lacking. They simply won’t work at that scale of operation.

In fact, over the entire passenger experience, its airports that are most vulnerable to service flaws, as they rely on strong collaboration between an array of stakeholders, including airlines, ground handlers, customs, immigration, security and retailers to name a few. To combat this situation, we need vision, collaboration, customer-focused processes and the smart application technology that can evolve service levels and put the global industry on more sound financial footing.

Of course, many airlines and airports around the world will cringe at the investment that is required to make this steep change. However I would argue that the cost of not changing is far more significant. Almost 50% of dwell time is absorbed by non-commercial processes at an opportunity cost as high as US$35 billion per annum. This is a staggering amount and that money could help address the current imbalance seen across the aviation value chain, which has led to around US$50 billion in losses for airlines over the past decade.

Imagine a future where the customer’s online booking, purchase, seat selection, advance passenger information and biometric data are recorded well in advance. A future where the baggage is checked in advance away from the airport. Biometric data is used to confirm passenger identification, assess security risk and is linked to passenger name records for baggage sequencing, check-in and boarding pass confirmation. And finally, where security scanning occurs simultaneously and unobtrusively in minutes, freeing up time for the customer to relax, dine or shop.

A fresh approach can turn this vision into a reality, as long as the solution is customer-centric, aligns the value chain and results in a seamless process.