(DENNIS B MALLARI)
For someone who always wanted to be a cathedral organist, Paul Griffiths, the chief executive currently spearheading the operations for Dubai Airports, has travelled a long distance.
In an interview with Emirates Business, Griffiths shares his strategy for the two Dubai airports – Dubai International Airport and the upcoming Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central development in Jebel Ali.
What are your goals and strategies for the two airports?
I just want to see that the growth of the airports is taken to the maximum. I want to see passengers delighted with what we provide. And in terms of rate of growth and excellence in customer service, we want to be number one in the world. There have been challenges of growth. But when you get growth, which outstrips the supply of infrastructure, you have got some service challenges. And this is what has happened here.
But there has been some excellent work done. And I am looking forward to building on that to get Dubai International Airport back to the number one slot.
What kind of synergies and disparities do you foresee between Dubai International Airport (DIA) and Al Maktoum International Airport (JXB)?
I think the two airports will work very well together. A lot of cities in the world have more than one airport, and lots of them are smaller than Dubai. With the high-speed rail link of 35 minutes between the two airports coming up, it will be a successful operation between the two.
Also, with an excellent home-based airline such as Emirates, with all its growth aspirations and a proven record in customer service and the ability to tap customers, I think Dubai is going to need every spare bit of airport capacity that it can generate.
It is very refreshing to hear a city committed to that when most other cities across the world are always just planning to catch up.
Emirates has been indicating it may eventually move its entire operation to the JXB when it is ready? Do you see that spelling a doom for DIA?
We look at growth projections. When and if that day comes when Emirates moves its operations in entirety to JXB, we may well need more than the 120 million passenger capacity – all from Al Maktoum International Airport. Yes, it may be a hit on DIA but by then, if the growth in air travel continues at the rate that it is being projected, we will absorb any of the spare capacity left at DIA. I see the passenger count at DIA going up to 60 million over the next three-odd years, from the current 30 million.
Growth of passenger and cargo traffic through DIA continues to mirror the consistent double-digit rise in Dubai’s GDP. By mid-2008 DIA will open Terminal 3 and Concourse 2, as part of a massive expansion project that will give a tremendous boost to its capacity. So I do not really see a threat for DIA from JXB. And let us face it. If they are both under the same branch or the same management, then we can manage the two as an integrated system rather than in competition with each other.
How much investment is earmarked for the expansion of DIA?
An investment of $82 billion (Dh301bn) marked for the DIA over the next 10 years is a pretty big sum. However, not all of that will be used for just increasing capacity. A lot of it would be used to improve customer service as well because in my view the two go hand-in-hand.
What about revenue projection?
Revenue clearly is very much predicted on passenger growth, and if you look at the growth of Emirates fleet and the passenger numbers that grow month on month at anything between 17 and 23 per cent, our revenue growth in line with that, will be very handsome indeed.
We also plan to increase the amount of spend per passenger by improving the retail offering, giving more space in terminals to food outlets and shopping opportunities – all the things that people like at airports.
How will you finance the expansion?
Most of it would come from the government itself. We have no plans of selling bonds at this point of time.
Even though you cannot rule anything out in this city, things like a public listing are far too early to speculate for us. We are only just finding our feet as a separate entity outside of the auspices of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation.
The first Airbus A380 will arrive in Dubai in August next year followed by more later on. Are our airports prepared to welcome the superjumbos? Are there enough gates to park them?
At the moment, there are 23 A380 gates at DIA; it will be a pretty impressive site when you have got that number of superjumbos on the ground.
What about low-cost airlines?
Al Maktoum International Airport coming up in Jebel Ali will give a huge opportunity to the growth of low-cost carriers in the Middle East. There is a dedicated terminal being built at Al Maktoum International Airport, designed with all the features that low- cost carriers really need in order to make their operations efficient.
What are the challenges being faced by the aviation sector here?
Some of the challenges relate to the capacity used in the aerospace. Potential in the control sector above Dubai is very challenging because clearly, ATC (air traffic control) capacity is quite hard to come by.
We know the General Civil Aviation Authority is meeting to discuss this very issue because there are a lot of routes that are not open at the moment that we would like to see open… in order to maximise the capacity in the air. That is because it is not just about capacity within the airport terminals. There are also the runways, the aprons, the stands and the taxiways — all of this works as an integrated system.
What made you sign a MoU with Dubai Aerospace Enterprise?
There are two reasons behind the move. One is to make sure that we are able to co-operate by helping DAE in any way that would enable the aerospace body in its efforts to take over existing airports and invest in new airports in the region and overseas.
The second is the investment in technology. I am really hoping that we can encourage DAE to develop some exciting new technological solutions to airport problems that have not been solved for 20 years.
Security screening is one such example. It is things like a non-stop walk through security screening that we would like to see vanish. And I believe that technology exists. It just needs to be put in a package that makes it usable for airports.
If you were not running airports, what would you be doing?
I would have either been playing the organ or motor racing. I fly a lot but music is still a passion of mine. I still play the organ. I would love to see the organ being played in the opera house in Dubai some day.
Paul Griffiths, Chief Executive – Dubai Airports
Prior to moving to Dubai in October 2007, Griffiths, 49, was the Managing Director of London’s Gatwick Airport. He played a key role in mending the airport group’s relationship with airlines. Before joining airport operator BAA in 2004, he spent 14 years with the Virgin Group, working closely with Sir Richard Branson as a board director of the Virgin Travel Group, embracing the commercial activities of both Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Trains.
And in the 1980s Griffiths spent four years in Hong Kong developing the marketing, commercial planning and technology functions for the then start-up airline Dragonair.
So while Griffiths may have had an unusual start in the aviation, he has managed to combine a high-profile career with a schedule of concert and recital engagements, having made many public appearances as a recitalist, continuo player and soloist in concerti with major orchestras. But when the opportunity to run Dubai’s international airport as well as develop the world’s largest international airport came his way, Griffiths was more than happy to check in.
‘Dubai will need more airport capacity’