An IE in the Middle East: Dubai International Airports

By Fernando Lamelas

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In my first post back in May (Destination Dubai) I talked briefly about the city’s growth and unshakable ambition to become a world metropolis and diversify its economy. Well, key to this growth and the sustainable economic development of the city, the UAE and the rest of the GCC region, is the expansion of Dubai’s international airports. In this quest, Dubai Airports (DA) who owns and manages the operation and development of Dubai International (DI) and Dubai World Central (DWC) airports has embarked on a very ambitious master plan in preparation to the city’s potential selection to host the 2020 World Expo.

Dubai International (DI) now ranks second in international passenger traffic (just behind London Heathrow), experiencing double-digit growth year over year. Over the last seven years alone passenger traffic has doubled from 25 million in 2005 to 57 million in 2012, and with further expansion of its current facilities (a new concourse opens in 2015), opportunity to optimize runway capacity (number of arrivals/departures per hour) and the opening of Dubai World Central (DWC) to passenger traffic in October 2013 (currently only use for cargo), overall capacity is expected to grow to 90 million, an increase of 30 million from current. When it is all said and done, it is estimated that the aviation industry will contribute to roughly 22% of total employment and 32% of GDP. Pretty impressive, right?

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While I can sit here and throw at you a bunch of statistics on the capacity, square footage or specifics of each terminal or concourse, I much rather share my first impressions of what it is like to work in an airport. My role is primarily operational support, so I get to spend most of the time doing analysis and working on project proposals to drive efficiencies or determine resource requirements. But like any other IE, in order to get a good understanding of the problem at hand and get familiar with the business, I spend a good amount of time in the operation learning the nuances of what it takes to ‘turnaround’ an aircraft in the least amount of time.

When I am asked about my job I like to tell people how complex an airport operation is. I often refer to it like a “big moving puzzle”, where each activity has a set of dependencies that are link together. While some activities can be done in parallel, others require a prior activity to complete before a new one can start. In an industry that is time sensitive, every minute counts towards a flight’s on-time departure, with very little room left to recover if any delays occur. A few delayed flights here and there throughout the day, and your operation can be disrupted for the shift, causing you to keep labor or “Staff” (as called here in Dubai) on overtime to cover overlapping flights during shift change.

From the dnata Airport Operations perspective, the company is the sole provider of all air services at the airport, which can be view good from a business perspective, but challenging to manage from an operations standpoint. In most airports, various ground-handling companies provide their services to specific airlines (their customers). The reason why I say it is a challenge is because running such a big operation is not an easy task and can put a lot of pressure to be able to deliver the best service on time and within budget. Luckily, dnata is well positioned here in Dubai and is leveraging several in-house developed systems and technology to drive efficiencies and streamline once labor-intensive roles. One of these functions is resource allocation, which has to do with the real time deployment of labor (usually in teams) to attend upcoming flights. For this task, a centralize command operation center runs 24/7 and uses the latest information from various sources to effectively deploy resources using an optimization engine that takes into consideration the resource location, task dependencies, task priority level and other set of rules and constraints defined by the business. One important consideration to all this is the airport’s geography, since in some instances travel time between any two points can take up to 45-60 minutes.

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Dubai International Terminal 3 – dedicated for the exclusive use of Emirates Airline

I still have a lot to learn and up to this point I have been learning each area as different projects have come up. It is for sure a fascinating industry and one very challenging to manage as I mentioned given the time constraints and other general aviation and safety regulations. In the meantime, with DWC opening its operations to passenger traffic in October this year, the future is promising for Dubai’s aviation industry and I look forward to being part of this growth in the coming years.

In case you miss last month’s blog, see below a link to July’s post: An IE in the Middle East: Diversity in the Workplace

Fernando Lamelas is a Resource Planning Manager for dnata, the air services company of the Emirates Group and currently lives in Dubai, UAE. Prior to his current role, Fernando worked for other Fortune 500 companies including Disney, General Electric and CEMEX. He holds a BS from Tecnológico de Monterrey and a MS from the University of Florida, both in Industrial Engineering. He is passionate about travelling, sports, diversity in the workplace, personal development and volunteerism.

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