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Sun 26 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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US$3 billion technology boost

The thriving Middle East aviation industry presents a golden opportunity for specialist airport systems providers, with airports in the UAE investing heavily on robust technologies.

Airports in the Middle East will spend US$3 billion on their IT infrastructures over the next five years. With the aviation sector witnessing a surge in tourist arrivals and regional hub Dubai International Airport expecting 60 million visitors by 2015, regional governments have allocated US$15 billion to build new facilities and upgrade existing ones. As regional nations diversify their economies to capitalise on the tourist boom, and the emergence of global travel hubs, the aviation industry is set to go from strength to strength.

US$5.8 billion will be spent on projects in the UAE alone, with the construction of a third terminal at Dubai International Airport, the development of new airports at Jebel Ali and Ajman and expansion plans for Abu Dhabi and Sharjah International Airports. As a result, airport authorities believe robust technologies will help reduce operational costs and at the same time allow for optimisation of existing resources.

Bayanat Data Processing Systems (DPS), regional integrator of airport systems, says technology will help airports ensure appropriate facilities are in place to effectively and safely cater to the rise in flight traffic and airline passengers.

“The sums that are spent on ensuring the Middle East airport facilities remain among the best in the world is staggering. This is indicative of the commitment of the governments and aviation authorities to delivering a world-class service to travellers,” says Georges Hannouche, CEO of Bayanat-DPS. “In line with the expansion that we are observing, we are also seeing an exponential growth in demand for the latest airport technologies as they seek to upgrade their flight management capabilities. The introduction of new airlines means airports will also have to install special airport technologies to cater to the rising numbers and size of aircraft,” adds Hannouche.

At Abu Dhabi airport, for example, the construction of the new terminal is underway. The four-month project, worth US$41 million, will be complete in August. Having delivered airport technology solutions that include instrument landing systems, radars, simulators and network infrastructures for Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah and Sharjah airports, Bayanat will deploy the three major systems for Abu Dhabi’s temporary second terminal.

“While the value of this expansion contract is not big in dollars, the three months we have to complete the project will make it a challenge. Projects tend to be given to electromechanical contractors which do not have the knowledge and skills required. This adds overheads and means that a project takes longer. As specialists in IT telecommunications, air traffic control and electromechanics, however, we are confident that the project can be completed successfully, at a lower cost, and on time,” says Alan Bourjeily, manager of Bayanat’s aviation division.

The implementation will include the deployment of a flight information display system (FIDS) and public address system (PA), along with departure control and baggage reconciliation systems. SITA will deliver a complete range of integrated, IP-based communication software solutions to provide an optimised and secure network.

Bayanat will provide integration, support and maintenance services. The FIDS screens showing departures and arrivals will be deployed in public areas and in the back offices of the terminal and an automated PA system for announcing all the flight information will be installed, operating in four different languages – Arabic, French, English and German. “We are also deploying a telephone enquiry system so that passengers can call the airport via a touch-tone phone and receive updates about flight schedules,” adds Bourjeily.

The most important system for Abu Dhabi or for any airport is the departure control system, which connects the airline’s check-in desk to the host system, providing passenger with reservation information.

The solution also includes a baggage reconciliation system, which provides a wireless aeroplane apron outside the terminal building. With the heightened security at airports, this technology is a critical part of aircraft safety. “Baggage reconciliation is important. If a bag is on the plane and the passenger is not onboard, ground handlers need to be able to find the luggage quickly and remove it. This is obviously much easier if all the bags are electronically accounted for,” he explains.

Elsewhere in the region other airports are requiring further expansion of their IT infrastructures. Dubai’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) is building a third terminal and second concourse. Arinc, part of a consortium, which has been awarded the MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) contract for the project, will provide passenger check-in systems and related technologies.

“This is the largest single airport IT contract ever awarded to Arinc. [The company will] support the DCA’s efforts to anticipate travel demands of the 21st century [and] will deliver technologies to make Dubai’s new terminal one of the most efficient airport facilities globally,” says Graham Lake, Arinc’s EMEA vice president. In a US$45 million project, Arinc will provide design, project management, supply management, installation and commissioning for mission-critical airport systems. Among these will be Arinc’s iMuse common-use passenger system and AirVue, a FID system.

The suite will also include a resource management system, GateFlow, the vendor’s airport operational database, AirDB and Arinc SelfServ, its common-use self-service check-in kiosk solution. Arinc will also interface the systems with newly installed solutions from third party contractors, and integrate the terminal 3 and concourse 2 technologies to the existing airport infrastructure. The completion date for the project is April 2007.

Alcatel, which is also part of the consortium, has won the US$54 million contract to supply telecommunications and security systems. The telco will work in partnership with Arinc to supply, integrate and deploy security and access control systems and CCTV. “The trust of the Dubai DCA not only confirms our worldwide expertise in serving the transportation industry, but also positions Alcatel to expand its presence in the Middle East,” comments Frederic Rose, president of Alcatel’s integration and services activities.

There is no doubt that aviation technology is a billion-dollar industry, with lucrative contracts being awarded to specialist suppliers and integrators from around the Middle East and Africa region, as well as further afield.

Improvement and expansion is under way at airports in Sharjah and Qatar, and the contract for Abu Dhabi’s permanent terminal 2 is still up for grabs. “The final decision on terminal 2 should be announced in the next six to twelve months and the provisioning of airport systems and control systems will be finalised. We hope to be implementing a lot more packages there, but there are several bidders in the running,” says Bayanat’s Bourjeily.

However, the most interesting project for specialist technology providers is the development at Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ). The new Jebel Ali airport will open in 2007 with a 4500 metre runway, a cargo terminal, passenger terminal and business jet facilities. The facility is destined to grow into a 140-square kilometre airport city.

The competition for the project’s IT infrastructure provisioning will be intense and the budget will be huge. The aviation industry is not one for cutting corners. “Through developing next-generation facilities, Middle East airports will ensure they remain ahead of the rest of the world in providing services. By enhancing their technology use, the [aviation industry] will be boosting its short, medium and long-term business,” concludes Bayanat-DPS’ Hannouche.

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