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Fri 13 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Flying high

CEO Middle East meets HE Khalifa Al Mazrouei, chairman and managing director of Abu Dhabi Airports Company, who reveals his plans for the UAE capital’s booming airports industry.

CEO Middle East meets HE Khalifa Al Mazrouei, chairman and managing director of Abu Dhabi Airports Company, who reveals his plans for the UAE capital’s booming airports industry.

Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) is a public joint stock company wholly owned by the Abu Dhabi Government. It was incorporated by Amiri Decree number 5, issued on March 4, 2006, to spearhead the development of the emirate’s aviation infrastructure.

In September 2006, ADAC took over responsibility for the operation and management of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain international airports. In 2008, ADAC added Al Bateen Executive Airport, and Sir Bani Yas and Delma Island Airports to its portfolio. These airports all serve different segments of the marketplace and help contribute to Abu Dhabi’s development as a destination for both business and leisure tourism.

ADAC also manages a number of subsidiary organisations that work collectively to ensure the highest standards and service for passengers, airlines and other airport customers. This includes Abu Dhabi Airport Services (ADAS), Abu Dhabi Cargo Company (ADACC), Abu Dhabi Hospitality Company (ADHC), Abu Dhabi In-flight Catering (ADIFC) and Abu Dhabi Duty Free (ADDF). The Gulf Centre for Aviation Studies (GCAS) is the region’s leading aviation training and business development centre and is also part of the ADAC family. Abu Dhabi has a large number of special events planned this year. How much do you expect passenger traffic to grow by this year compared to last year? Do you expect that growth pattern to continue? If so, by how much?

We are positive about the outlook for the remainder of 2009 and for the year ahead. Earlier this year, the 2008 World Airport Traffic Report issued by the Airports Council International, the trade association of the world’s airports, reported Abu Dhabi Airport as the world’s fastest growing. The airport handled 30.2 percent more passengers than in 2007, and in June we reported a year-on-year passenger increase of 8.1 percent for the first six months of 2009. We expect the following six month figures to follow the same trend. In 2008, Abu Dhabi International Airport announced a record 9.02 million passengers handled through its facilities, and we are optimistic that we will achieve more than this figure for the year end 2009.

Our tremendous growth has been influenced by the recent extension and increase of airline services, such as Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa, and the arrival of new airlines such as Air Asia, Air India Express, and Ukraine International Airlines, which recently started a twice weekly service between Abu Dhabi and Kiev. Etihad Airways, the national carrier for the UAE, also contributes greatly to this growth with its growing network of destinations.

A strong and vibrant MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) industry within Abu Dhabi is also a key contributor to passenger statistics, with major exhibitions such as Cityscape, ADIPEC and ADIHEX attracting significant visitor numbers.

What measures are you taking to ensure that passenger traffic at Abu Dhabi Airport remains in line with the city’s 2030 strategic plan?

Abu Dhabi Plan 2030 underpins all of the work delivered by ADAC. We have an ambitious growth schedule for attracting new airlines operating from all our airports and our team is working to develop the range of new carriers which are keen to take advantage of the prime location, high quality services and products available at our airports.

These airlines will cater to both leisure and business tourism, which the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority predicts will reach 3 million per year by 2015, in addition to the local travelling public.

In addition, ADAC is investing heavily in the improvements across all of our airports, to meet current and predicted demand and to help secure a bright aviation future for the emirate. This includes developments at both Abu Dhabi and Al Ain international airports.

In Abu Dhabi, ADAC currently has a large scale, AED25bn (US$ 6.9bn) redevelopment and expansion plan underway. This is designed to increase the overall capacity of the airport to more than 20 million passengers per year.

As part of this programme, ADAC has already delivered a second runway, and third terminal used exclusively by Etihad Airways. A new air traffic control (ATC) tower is starting to take shape and become visible on the airport skyline, while work is progressing on the landmark Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC).This development lies at the very heart of the investment programme and will provide a full terminal building, passenger and cargo facilities, duty free shops and restaurants.

ADAC also recently announced the launch of the Al Ain Aerospace Cluster, a significant new aerospace park to be located on a 25 sq km area of land adjacent to Al Ain International Airport. The park, strategically located in the centre of the UAE, makes it ideally situated to serve the Middle East, Asia Pacific and African markets. It will offer a unique opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the aerospace industry to expand their international trade and establish operations in one of the world’s fastest growing economic regions. The development will also house a centre of excellence for technology and innovation in the global aerospace industry.

The project is an initiative by ADAC and the government of Abu Dhabi as result of identifying aerospace manufacturing as a strategic investment sector, given the large procurement amounts in airlines and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). The Aerospace cluster will be spread across an area of 10 million sq m and is comprised of different phases, with the first phase commencing in 2009 and scheduled for completion by 2012.

Air Asia recently announced a new route from Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur. How important is the budget airline industry to you?

Budget airlines service a specific sector of the marketplace and provide an alternative for the travelling public, and as such ADAC is keen to ensure there are low-cost carrier options for passengers available from our airports.

These airlines, usually catering to travellers and destinations within a four-hour flying radius, gives us the ability to access more than one billion potential passengers in the MENA and sub-continent catchment area.

Al Ain International Airport is well known as one of the fastest and most efficient airports in the UAE and is developing as the region’s hub for cargo and low cost carriers.

Aircraft arriving into Al Ain experience no holding patterns and have taxi times of less than three minutes, providing major cost savings in fuel consumption compared to other UAE airports.

The airport currently features seven walk-up aircraft parking positions adjacent to boarding gates, with short passenger walk-up distances, as well as streamlined terminal designed to ensure good passenger flow. With no airspace congestion and no aerobridges, short taxi distances and quick processing times, aircraft are able to utilise multiple cabin doors for embarking and disembarking passengers. This translates into what could be considered as some of the fastest turnaround times in the region, an essential element of the low-cost carrier business model.

Many airlines recognise the high growth potential of this market and we believe Al Ain International Airport to be of strategic importance to low-cost carriers, knowing that it offers the right settings, environment, facilities and commitment for growth within the MENA region.

You recently announced Wi-Fi at the airport. How important is technology to you? Are you currently implementing any other technology?

In addition to the Wi-Fi capabilities at Abu Dhabi airport, ADAC has recently installed 50 walk-up internet kiosks in Terminal 3 and 15 kiosks in Terminal 1. These touch screen walk-up kiosks offer 20 minutes of free internet access per session and help to contribute to a quality visitor experience for all our passengers.

The expansion of free internet access across the entire airport is part of ADAC’s policy to create a technologically-advanced gateway to the world, and give rise to a leading airport with world-class facilities for all passengers.

ADAC has also introduced further technology enhancements with the installation of 24 CUSS (common use self-service) kiosks at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Through shared use by all airlines operating at the airport, the kiosks will allow ADAC to increase capacity during peak times and avoid the need to invest in fixed check-in counters. This will allow ADAC to accommodate the extra flow of travellers during peak hours and for special events such as the hosting of Formula One™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November and the FIFA Club World Cup in December.

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