DUBAI: The closure of one runway at Dubai International Airport (DXB) has increased the likelihood of what might have been a routine disruption with two runways in operation resulting in “serious challenges” under a single runway operation, a top official has said.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview on the behind-the-scenes operations of Dubai Airports during the 45-day refurbishment of the southern runway which began on April 16, Damian Ellacott, vice-president, airport operations control centre (AOCC), said Dubai Airports has been preparing for the potential scenarios for two years now, with the centre at DXB continuing to monitor the operations at Dubai World Central (DWC) which has taken on a sizeable part of the workload.
The refurbishment programme, called southern runway rehabilitation (SRR), involves complete resurfacing and replacement of the airfield ground lighting and supporting infrastructure. Approximately 60,000 tonnes of asphalt and 8,000 cubic metre of concrete are being used to strengthen and retop the 4.5km runway and the adjacent taxiways. Some 800km of primary cables are being installed and over 5,500 runway lights replaced with more modern and eco-friendly technology.
All this work has meant a 32 per cent reduction in the 1,200 aircraft movements at DXB, which in turn has resulted in a 750 per cent increase in aircraft movements at DWC.
So just what are the challenges that Dubai Airports has to deal with?
“The flow rate of aircraft reduces considerably when there is a weather disruption, so when only one runway is functional the airport’s capacity for arrivals and departures is reduced even further, hence a fog or other weather-related incident can be a huge problem. Similarly, if an aircraft has a technical issue on the runway and can’t vacate the runway immediately, then all other arriving and departing aircraft will be delayed until the aircraft is towed away. Under normal circumstances at DXB, aircraft could land or take-off from the other runway, but that is not an option during the SRR programme,” said Ellacott.
According to him, a lot of “resilience planning” has helped prepare the airport staff for any such contingencies.
The flow rate of aircraft reduces considerably when there is a weather disruption, so when only one runway is functional the airport’s capacity
He said the airport operations control centre (AOCC) located at DXB also manages the escalated operations at DWC. “The AOCC at DXB still has operational responsibility for DWC which is 60-70km by away by road. We have the required technology, processes and people on the ground to monitor the situation and take decisions in real time,” said Ellacott.
2,000 staff, 1,500 equipment
The new operations have resulted in the movement of over 2,000 Dubai Airports and service partner staff to manage the airside, terminal, baggage handling and other responsibilities at DWC.
In the first of a four-part video series launched last week, Steve Allen, DSVP, UAE airport operations, DNATA, pointed out that the SRR programme has also entailed the shifting of over 900 pieces of equipment from DXB to DWC. “If you add the cones and chocks, that goes up to about 1,500 pieces of equipment,” said Allen.
Besides the cones and chocks, the equipment includes everything from baggage trolleys to aircraft tugs, stairs, tractors, trailers, dollies and ULDs.
“The biggest challenge so far is one we did not expect. The people here (DWC) have been fantastic. They arrived on day one, on time, ready for work, they have settled in easily,” said Allen, adding, “I guess what surprises us is some of the systems issues. We have such complex systems in airports and they all integrate with each other and there has been missing data and things like that we just did not expect or could not test for.”
According to Ellacott, “It was inevitable that there would be some situations where data was lost or some systems were not talking to each other at a facility that has not previously had this level of operations to handle. But thankfully, these issues were identified early on and duly addressed.”
In the video, Safaa Khalaf, director, terminal, DWC, said, “Earlier, we used one aisle only of the desks, which is 30 counters. Now, we are using two areas with the concept of centralising the services for our customers. DWC is handling 145 flights a day and will welcome 800,000 passengers during the 45 days, almost as many as it will handle in a year.”
Ellacott said DWC has never been tested to the current operational levels before — and therein lay the opportunities.
Will airlines move permanently?
“This is such a fantastic facility and it is great to see it being used to the extent it is now. Our goal is to ensure that the operation flows as seamlessly as possible. Which means the passenger experience is delivered to the highest levels, that they don’t have to queue unnecessarily, that they can check in and be processed through the different touch points seamlessly and effectively; and that their flights depart on time and they have their bags with them.”
Asked if the flights that had now been moved to DWC would continue to operate from here even after the runway refurbishment is complete, he said, “That decision ultimately comes down to the carriers. The enhanced operations at DWC have shown them the level of service and support they can get at such a great facility. If they find it appealing, we can look at permanently relocating them — and many others too.”