Saturday, May 10, 2014

Seconds Mean Slots at Dubai International Airport

The Wall Street Journal

By Rory Jones

Dubai International Airport last week became the world’s busiest for international traffic. But the stellar performance in the first quarter is not likely to be repeated in the second as the airport is currently undertaking a major upgrade of its runways. Here, Chris Garton, senior vice president of airport operations tells The Wall Street Journal about what it takes to run the world’s busiest airport, but with just one runway.

WSJ: What are you doing during the 80-day improvement plan?

Mr. Garton: The Northern runway needing resurfacing is the main driver. We’re going to mill off the top surface like remaking a road. At the same time, we‘re upgrading the lighting system and we’re taking the opportunity to put in more rapid exit taxiways, the run offs from the runway. The point being, the longer the aeroplane stays on the runway, the less capacity you have.

WSJ: So the run offs will mean planes exit faster?

Mr. Garton: Even one second is worth one movement to us in an hour, which would be 24 extra flights a day, in theory.

WSJ: So the planes get off the runway quicker and create more opportunities for other jets to land.

Mr. Garton: Modern aircraft have better performance. The aircraft breaking now is pretty rapid and you don’t run all the way down to the runway and taxi back.

WSJ: So will you fit in more aircraft movements after the upgrade?

Mr. Garton: We’re looking at 2 or 3 extra movements [in a day]. In the peaks is where we’re really interested. If I could add an extra movement, [Emirates Airline President] Tim Clark would be happy.

WSJ: How do you allocate slots among a home airline like Emirates and others?

Mr. Garton: Think of a doctor’s appointment. You have to book your appointment with the doctor and what we declare as the airport is how many appointments we have, i.e. how many slots on the runway we have. We declare for each hour of the day, winter and summer, in advance of the season. An airline makes bids for what it would like and there’s an independent slot coordinator who try to fulfil airline wishes.

WSJ: What factors decide who gets what?

Mr. Garton: If you’ve operated that slot for so long and you’ve done it so well you get a preference to keep it.

WSJ: You seem to have more passengers than any airport, but less aircraft movements?

Mr. Garton: One of things that’s unusual about us is that we have quite a high average passengers per movement at 209. A typical airport might be more 150/160. This is because we are unique in having so many A380s. It’s much more efficient, because if you can handle one aircraft on the runway you’re moving more passengers for that 60 seconds on the runway. The ideal business would be to have a runway full of A380s.

WSJ: How do other airports manage maintenance of runways?

Mr. Garton: Most airports have a midnight to 6am closure. What they would do is build the runway in sections. In 6 hours you can do quite a meaningful patch. Our issue is we don’t get that. We never get that closure period.

WSJ: You’re open 24 hours. What’s your busiest period?

Mr. Garton: Midnight to 3am is the busiest time. There’s another peak early morning and a peak late afternoon. You see three peaks. We’re the crossed roads of the world here. The timing is customer driven. You want to finish your work day in Europe. Then at 7 or 8 o’clock you want to be away from Heathrow, Frankfurt or Gatwick. You are probably going to land in the small hours [in Dubai] and with a quick connection you want to be in Australia 14 hours after that.